February 14, 1996


Blue Rodeo Keeps '60s Alive
by Greg Burliuk - Southam Newpapers


I've watched Blue Rodeo perform for more than 10 years, but I never realized until Monday night at the Grand Theatre how much this band is a throwback to the '60s. These days Jim Cuddy looks and even sounds like a grizzled George Harrison, and Greg Keelor has always been a combination of teen heart-throb and Roy Orbison.

Dedicated fans will know this from earlier albums like 1989's Diamond Mine and, in particular, its title track.

But in case you've just joined the Blue Rodeo chuckwagon during the last two albums (the acoustic Five Days in July, and the sombre From Nowhere To Here), the band spelled it out with several lengthy, and at times psychedelic jams to the sold-out audience.

The last number of the evening was indeed Diamond Mine and in the middle I could have sworn James Gray was pretending he was The Doors' Ray Manzarek. (Of course Gray is the successor to Bobby Wiseman, the original band keyboardist, who was in love with the '60s organ sound.) Need more proof? How about the song Hasn't Hit Me Yet, which drew a roar from the crowd with its line, "It's kind of like those old sunsets that leave you feeling stoned.''

The strange thing is that although some of these old trappings don't particularly make for great rock theatre, the Grand audience came ready to party even if their musical hosts weren't particularly in the same mood. Just two songs into the show, Keelor ripped through Till I Am Myself Again, one of the band's biggest and briskest hits, and the audience erupted with loud pleasure. Cuddy joked that band members were like Sisyphus, the Greek mythic character condemned forever to push a rock to the top of the hill only to have it fall down again - only in their case they were pushing the audience up. The joke was that "pushing'' the audience was difficult when everyone saw how easy it was.

Still, in some ways Blue Rodeo made the task more difficult with a program that never particularly got hot, but mostly tried its darnedest to stay cool. The ringleader was Cuddy: The band followed his noodlings on the guitar (and sometimes they were indeed meandering) as faithfully as dogs on a leash. Sometimes he was even comic. The band took the old song from Diamond Mine called Florida, which had once featured Wiseman's bouncy organ, and re-tooled it into a semi-recital by Cuddy that emphasized its funny lyrics.

In this band, Cuddy plays the role of John Lennon while Keelor is Paul McCartney. In the '60s, I preferred Paul to John and the same holds true with his alter ego in this band. Keelor's poignant vocals always bring out the sadness of a song: I loved his bittersweet presentations of 5 Days In May, and even more so on Bad Timing (both from the Five Days in July album), as well as the energy of Head Over Heels and of course Till I Am Myself Again.

The band used more than half the concert to play songs from Five Days (five) and From Nowhere (four), and the rest from the first three (Outskirts, Diamond Mine and Casino).

For some reason, there was no representation from 1992's Lost Together (unless it was with the one song I failed to identify). What you have to admire about this band is that although it has got hits to prove it knows the highway to commercial success, it has often chosen to go off the beaten paths.

That can be said even more so of opening act Crash Vegas, which seems to re-invent itself every few years. Buddies of Blue Rodeo, Crash Vegas has gone from loud rockers to wistful songsmiths. Its 45-minute set had McAdorey's voice dominating sparse instrumentation, at times reminding you of a jazz combo backing a saloon singer. The Kingston Whig-Standard