Blue Rodeo’s catalog is big and varied, but not so wide ranging that you couldn’t tell a particular release is from the veteran Canadian alt-country band. They staked out their territory early on and haven’t wavered. Their live show matches that consistency. They would pull from an old album, like one of the ones collected on their recent Blue Rodeo 1987-1993 box set, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell if they’d recorded a song 25 years ago or yesterday.
With one exception thanks to an unfortunate necessity. Greg Keelor, one-half of the lead vocals for the band along with Jim Cuddy, can’t really be an axeman anymore thanks to serious hearing loss. So he was stuck with an acoustic for the whole show. That’s a huge problem, except that he didn’t seem wholly vital during their first of two sets last night, one more dedicated to rock-oriented material. When there would be a wild keyboard solo — and last night was a night of keyboard solos — he’d just stand and watch.
(Side note: if the crowd wanted to see the key action, they’d fade his image up onto one of three screens onstage. Otherwise, they’d be showing ripples or poorly-rendered stars or at best actual pictures of things. Windows 95 screensavers get thrown around as a reference point a lot for ugly graphic, but this is a time when it’s deserved.)
I kept feeling like their stellar songs and great stories would be better served by a more intimate setting. That’s what they gave with the second set. It closed with freewheeling alt-country, including “Try” and Cuddy showing off some blue-eyed soul flair with “After the Rain”, but starting with a stripped-down, mostly acoustic set of new and old songs. The former sounded great, making me look forward to the record coming out this fall. The latter were well-served by this treatment, showing off the fantastic vocal harmonies and chemistry Cuddy and Keelor have been cultivating for years.
When they came out for their second encore, it was just Cuddy and Keelor. Keelor mentioned they’d be “playing an old one”, “Is It You” from Lost Together. Someone in the crowd shouted, “What else are you going to do?”
That bummed me out. Blue Rodeo has a lot of creativity left in them, even if they’re taking time to remember all they’ve gotten up to. The stellar version they performed after that comment only highlighted that they haven’t lost that essential artistic connection to one another, giving me hope for what’s to come.