2023, Music

Blue Rodeo Live at Massey Hall Wednesday December 13, 2023

Despite their status as a Canadian institution, I don’t know Blue Rodeo well. I know a few of their (Canadian) hit songs to know it’s them, but I couldn’t tell you their names. (I knew a total of 4 songs from this show, I think.) I have listened to Casino and I listened to Diamond Mine as a teenager (due to the presence of a tape in my house). I certainly had never heard Five Days in July, celebrating its 30th anniversary and one reason we went to see them. (This is one of Jenn’s favourite bands and Five Days in July is her favourite album of theirs.) So I wasn’t 100% sure what I was in for, despite knowing both songwriters’ names and being very much aware of their existence as a Canadian music institution.

For the first set, I mostly got what I bargained for. They played the album all the way through, with one song left off for what would become obvious reasons. Though I had never heard Five Days in July it all sounded very Blue Rodeo to me. Not knowing it, I did feel like they were making some different artistic decisions given how much they switched up instruments and the like but, having listened to the album the next day, I can tell you that, aside from some solos, it was fairly close to the original. That being said, I can imagine that fans of this album were very happy as I feel like a number of these tracks aren’t likely to be performed on normal Blue Rodeo tours, and they performed what may have been a hidden track on the original released. I thought it was fine, if a little sedate except for during the couple guitar solos.

There was no opener. They played from just after 8PM to sometime after 10:30PM with an intermission (20 minutes?) and a very brief pause before the encore. I know I’m a broken record about this stuff, but it really does feel like bands are making a concerted effort post-pandemic to play longer. These guys are nearly in their ’70s and they played for over 2 hours.

The second set almost felt like a different band at times. They “played the hits” this time, including the one track from Five Days in July they omitted from the first set and, it turns out, one of four songs I knew on the night. The second set was much louder, with way more soloing (mostly on guitar but also organ, mandolin and, very briefly, bass). Additionally, the crowd started singing along and soon I was wondering why I didn’t bring ear plugs. (Through the first set I didn’t feel like I needed them at all.) The crowd got more raucous as this set went on.

Despite their ages, these guys are still very, very capable, for the most part. Cuddy in particular doesn’t seem to have lost any vocal range with age. The most impressive musician was their youngest, the pedal-steel guitarist/multi-instrumentalist (who apparently used to be in The Sheepdogs) but, for the most part the band impressed as performers. Keelor didn’t do much other than sing and sometimes strum his guitar, but maybe that’s always been his role.

I had only two criticisms of the show, or maybe it’s just one. The low-end of the mix was pretty murky – whenever the keyboardist soloed on the organ in the low-end, I couldn’t make out the notes. Otherwise, the sound was really good but I don’t know if this was a fault with the engineer, the venue, or our particular seats. The other thing is that, whenever the bassist was spotlighted, especially on his brief solo, he didn’t sound good. But that could have been the same problem with the mix, though in the moment I was willing to attribute it to his age (he has gloves on his hands that look like the kind people with arthritis wear).

Until recently, I hadn’t been to a lot of shows where most of the audience knows every word. I’ve been to a few since the pandemic and it’s such a different experience than shows where they don’t. It definitely feels “bigger” even when you’re seeing a band that most people outside of Canada have never heard of.

Anyway, they put on a good show, even if I now know they didn’t deviate very much from the recorded versions.

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