September 28, 1997

MEDIA

Coralling Blue Rodeo's Sound
Show at Gardens has Mixed Results
by Jane Stevenson - Toronto Sun

MEDIA

Two Canadian institutions joined forces for some mixed results last night as Blue Rodeo brought their unique blend of country, folk, rock and pop to Maple Leaf Gardens for the first time in the band's career.  And while the six-piece group didn't exactly blow the roof off the hockey areana, they showed a hometime crowd of 8,100 they're still a musical force to be reckoned with after a dozen years and six albums.

 Whether it was nerves, faulty equipment or the questionable sound, I don't know, but co-leaders and singer-songwriter-guitarists Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor went from tentative performers in the first set to impassioned and lively entertainers by the second set as they made their way through new and old material including Side Of The Road, 'Til I Am Myself Again, Trust Yourself, Rain Down On Me and Bad Timing.

 "This is a really exciting night for us," said Cuddy, early in the evening.  "Who knows how long this building is going to be here?"  Later on, Cuddy dedicated a song to the 1976 Maple Leafs, because "that was the year I moved to Toronto."  When Cuddy and Keelor weren't performing their glorious harmonies, they traded lead vocals from one song to the next, with the former's crystal clear, lovely voice able to penetrate the hockey arena's upper regions while the latter's lower-range, nasal mumblings were sometimes swallowed up by the venue which was only half-full.

 Which is not to say Keelor is the lesser of the two of the two men by any means.  There was something incredibly endearing about the way he -- dressed in a gold-colored retro suit, matching ruffled blouse and cowboy boots with incense burning at his feet -- played both the acoustic and electric guitar like a cross between Dave Stewart and Neil Young.

 The rest of the band -- the amazing Kim Deschamps on pedal and lap steel guitar, bassist Bazil Donovan, keyboardist James Gray and drummer Glenn Milchem -- remained pretty much in the background although their musicianship by no means suffered.  And Milchem and Keelor actually traded instruments on Smoking Gun, the Cuddy-written tune for the Keelor-organized Leonard Peltier benefit album, Pine Ridge: An Open Letter To Alan Rock.  It will be released on Oct. 15.

 Newfoundlanders Great Big Sea opened and were brought out for the encore.  But sorely missed were such Blue Rodeo greats as Girl In Green, a surprise dance hit off their last album, Nowhere To Here, and a couple of the band's older songs, Diamond Mine and Lost Together.