Blue Rodeo with Devin Cuddy – Orpheum Theatre (Vancouver, BC – January 2, 2014)

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.)

The afterglow of that announcement and a very successful launch of the band’s 13th studio album saw Blue Rodeo taking the stage at a not quite but very nearly sold out Orpheum theatre for the first of two nights to kick off their tour. Keelor opened the band’s show by explaining how the night would unfold. The first set, he explained, would consist of playing the entirety of the band’s new album in order. “I hate it when bands do that,” he said, “Hopefully some of you got a copy of it for Christmas, so you’ll know some of the songs.”

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. 

As it turns out, it wasn’t that risky a strategy either. The In Our Nature material was well received by the audience with thundering applause after some of its finest moments. It’s material that it both instantly familiar and still fresh. The songs tell stories from the band’s life with Mattawa an ode to Ontario’s Highway 17, and Keelor’s Paradise a tribute to his electricity free songwriting shack north of Toronto. Songs more or less alternated between Cuddy and Keelor on lead vocals, with a couple of solo acoustic numbers thrown in for good mix. 
If the material’s newness was a problem for the band, it wasn’t obvious to the audience. Aside from an amusing moment where Keelor started the first verse of a song and then stopped to tell the audience that “I fucked up” the new material poured out of the band as if they’d been playing it for their entire career. 
After a short break, Blue Rodeo returned for that second set promised by Keelor and a patient audience was rewarded with the kind of material most bands can only dream of. There’s been a lot of hits in that thirty year career, and some pretty finely crafted songs. The opening chord of the second set was instantly recognizable as the opening of a thundering rendition of Diamond Mine. That was quickly followed by Till I Am Myself Again before the band moved into their early hit Rose Coloured Glasses. The rest of the set unfolded in what essentially amounted to a thirty year retrospective of Canadian alternative country.

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.

When a band’s been around as long as Blue Rodeo it’s easy to take them for granted, and that’s a bad thing as an almost three hour show of fantastic music showed. The band is playing to its strengths, and playing as well as it ever has.

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. 

Comment by Jimmy Warburton on January 10, 2014 at 6:09am

i envision a small daylong festival featuring...blue rodeo lucinda jay farrar son volt david rawlings machine david lowery johnny hickman alejandro escovedo....feel free to add.

Comment by Daniel T on January 10, 2014 at 6:33pm

When I sold my LP collection, "Diamond Mine" was one of the 100 I allowed myself to keep.

Can't figure out why this band was never huge in the U.S.

Comment by Skot Nelson on February 2, 2014 at 10:29pm

So, the first Interstellar Rodeo was a three day and had Blue Rodeo, Alejandro and Dave Rawlings (Gillian Welch) which is about half your line up. It was killer:

http://www.nodepression.com/profiles/blogs/the-interstellar-rodeo-d...

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.