Blue Rodeo are about as close to musical royalty as exists in Canada. It was only a couple of days prior to this—the first show of a national tour in support of the band’s new album In Our Nature—that the band’s founding members and chief songwiters Jim Cuddy & Greg Keelor induction into into the Order of Canada was announced. (I personally can’t figure out why fellow founder Bazil Donovan wasn’t included, but I suppose that’s how it goes sometimes for bass players.)
This, as it turned out, was a nice twist on the recent trend of nostalgia laden tours of artists playing full version of their “classic” albums. While it’s obviously nice to hear old favourites live it’s hard not to respect a band that isn’t just resting on its laurels and relying on old familiar material. It’s nice to see a band put new material out up front after thirty years in the business. If I’m being honest I could do without hearing the band’s first breakout hit Try ever again, so I personally looked forward to the new material.
For a finale, the band reached back to their best selling album 1993’s Five Days in July and the gently opening chords of the Hasn’t Hit Me Yet wafted into the Orpheum’s rafters with Keelor and Cuddy walking to the front of the stage. Rather than leading the expected audience sing along the band stayed silent while an audience of 3,000 sang the first two verses and chorus of the song for the them. Cuddy reluctantly took over vocal duties to finally wind down the show.
With the venue’s curfew rapidly approaching, it felt like the short two song encore wasn’t the sort of pre-planned mandatory encore that audiences have grown to expect. The band invited the night’s opener the Devin Cuddy Band back to the stage and a gorgeous version of Lost Together which saw the younger Cuddy taking his father’s vocal and singing with Keelor before the rest of the band cleared the stage and Keelor and Cuddy finally closed the show with an acoustic duet sung into a single mic.
Any review of the night would be incomplete without mentioning the opening act the Devin Cuddy Band. The foursome is led by Cuddy on keys and played a great opening set but the real highlight came later when the band moved down the street to Vancouver’s Railway Club for a midnight set. In a frantic, kenetic hour of music Cuddy demonstrated that far from trading on his famous last name he’s got the musical chops to carve his own path. While his opening set consisted largely of tracks from his debut album Volume One, this set mixed songs like She Ain’t Cryin’ Over Me and My Son’s a Queer with a string of covers by legendary song writers and artists as diverse as Randy Newman, Chuck Berry, Sonny Boy Williams and The Band.
Cuddy seems to have been playing these after-gigs on tour dates since, and here’s hoping he continues because while the band is doing a fine job of opening the really big show they’re doing an even better job of touring through the history of rock and roll in the smaller, dirty bars nearby and that’s something you don’t want to miss. (It's kind of a genius strategy for opening acts, to be honest.)
Between three hours at the Orpheum and the follow up show by the piano playing rock and roll country blues man Devin Cuddy it'd be hard to put together a better way to start a year of live music. This one seems likely to make a year end best list. Catch the big show if you can, but be absolutely sure not to miss the after-party if there is one. It'll make a good night even better.
Blue Rodeo's In Our Nature tour is winding its way across Canada through March and the album can be ordered on iTunes or directly from the band on CD or vinyl. The Devin Cuddy Band will be opening for the entire tour. You can find details about the after-gigs on Devin Cuddy's web site as well as order a CD. You can also order Volume One from iTunes.