Blue Rodeo / Sadies – Schubas (Chicago, IL)
The sub-genre might be called Americana, but would it exist without Canadians? Not as we know it anyway — consider the contributions of Great White Northerners Neil Young and (most of) The Band. Maybe it should be “North Americana.”
Fans of Toronto’s Blue Rodeo, who’ve long fretted over the band’s failure to garner a stateside status to match their Canadian stardom, would probably agree. From their perspective, this show, billed as “Canada Night,” was a holiday. Blue Rodeo’s headlining appearance was just one stop on a tour that ended a long absence south of the border for the band, which hasn’t released a studio album since 1997’s Tremolo.
In the interim, co-leader Jim Cuddy made a solo album, and Canadian fans got a double-disc live record, Just Like A Vacation (Warner Music Canada). Most recently, the six-piece group swapped longtime pedal steel guitarist Kim Deschamps for multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan, a face familiar to American roots-rock fans. Egan’s resume includes stints with Freakwater, Wilco and Billy Bragg; in early 1999, he released his self-titled solo debut.
This was just Egan’s second gig with the band, but the early returns on his addition appeared promising. During the strummy ballad “It Could Happen To You”, his pedal steel solo added glimmering detail; elsewhere, his greasy electric lead sparked a rollicking cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” (with Jon Langford on lead vocals).
Egan wasn’t the only thing new about Blue Rodeo; the band also introduced material from a forthcoming album, Days In Between. Tentatively scheduled for Canadian release in February or March (with a U.S. release likely to follow on an as-yet undetermined label), the album was recorded at Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway studio in New Orleans with Trina Shoemaker, the Lanois disciple who produced Victoria Williams’ Musings Of A Creekdipper.
Lanois and his proteges tend to leave their mark on the albums they produce, which suggests a new direction for Blue Rodeo’s sound. But at Schubas, new material such as the title track, a typically circumspect Keelor tune redeemed here again by Egan, blended seamlessly with the old.
If Blue Rodeo looked and sounded like the wholesome boys next door, the Sadies, who opened, were the schoolyard bullies from the wrong side of the tracks. Led by brothers Dallas and Travis Good, the quartet pitched their camp at the confluence of rockabilly, surf and spaghetti western. Their opening set mixed material from their two Bloodshot discs, 1998’s Precious Moments and the new Pure Diamond Gold.
“Who do you like better,” Dallas Good asked the crowd, “Marty Robbins or the Handsome Family?” The Sadies can’t seem to decide which they prefer, and that’s just fine. His Telecaster slung low on his waist and a look of nearly catatonic nonchalance on his face, Dallas Good tossed off covers both traditional (“Little Sadie”) and contemporary (the Handsome Family’s “Milk And Scissors”), original ballads (“Tell Her Lies And Feed Her Candy”), and crackling instrumentals (“Locust Eater”) with an informality and humor that belied the songs’ intensity. The highlight of the set came when Travis Good stepped forward with his fiddle to howl out a happily sloppy version of Bob Wills’ “Stay A Little Longer”.