March 22, 1996

MEDIA

Performance: Blue Rodeo
Chris Smets - Rolling Stone Press File

MEDIA

The six piece took the stage leisurely, with singer-songwriters/guitarists Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor contrarily dressed in colourful Western shirts and sneakers, a subtle reflection of their twin loyalties to country sentimentality and rock'n'roll abandon. Augmented by bass, drums, keyboards, and pedal steel, they played the dark, electric material from their current release, "Nowhere to Here," but didn't lean solely on it; their set was a diverse sampling of a ten year, six album recording career.

The lanky, handsome Cuddy and the ragged, grey-bearded Keelor look the way their voices sound, and the former's heartbroken cowboy croon was perfect complement to his partner's rough-hewn, Costello-ish snarl. It was definitely a night for Cuddy fans, as much of the show was given to his straight ahead, singalong numbers like "Till I Am Myself Again," "Flying," and "Better Off As We Are," with an added hometown cheer for the last song's lyrical reference to New York's Washington Square. But it was when Keelor stepped up to the mike, for the epic "Side of the Road," the rockabillying "Florida," and the funky gloom of "Girl in Green," that Blue Rodeo got to display the versatility that earned them this year's Juno (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy) for Group of the Year.

With both singers trading guitar leads throughout, the show closed with an extended rock jam on Cuddy's "Trust Yourself," before the band encored with four songs, including a faithful Merle Haggard cover by bassist Bazil Donovan. The acoustic Cuddy staple "Five Days in May" gracefully spotlighted Kim Deschamps' pedal steel, and the night climaxed with the slow-building throb of Keelor's "Diamond Mine," centrepieced by an extremely outside and ultimately triumphant Ray Manzerak-style organ solo from keys player James Gray. If as many bands played with the honesty and passion of Blue Rodeo, this would be a different world indeed.

Fellow Canucks, Weeping Tile many not play country music per se, but singer Sarah Harmer's lyrics draw on the chill winds, jagged rock formations, lonely highways, and deserted, wide-open spaces that stretch between Canada's cities and towns. Performing loud, smeared, glorious versions of the snaggy pop songs on its debut, Cold Snap, the band easily won over a mostly unfamiliar crowd with its crisp stylistic invention. Weeping Tile deserves to have a large audience at its next local gig, and it looks like it probably will.