Blue Rodeo is one of those bands that is instantly recognizable the moment you hear Jim Cuddy’s warm comforting voice, or the gruffer rasp of Greg Keelor. There is never the question of who you’re hearing; it’s much like running into an old friend after an extended absence, who is ready to greet you with a hug and a smile. That time away just dissipates, and that comfortable familiarity takes over. It’s the same way when you walk into a Blue Rodeo show. You know the warm embrace of that tapestry of classic Canadiana, but it’s how the band weaves new material into their fabric that makes for a new experience.
This Toronto-based band has never been one to shortchange the Maritimes. When it comes to their decades of touring, they have always been sure to include Halifax in their plans. It’s that loyalty to the East Coast that has earned Blue Rodeo a die-hard fan-base here, and a packed house when they roll into town. Saturday night was no different, as the former Halifax Metro Centre (now Scotiabank Centre) was packed to see these Toronto lads perform. For those long-time fans, some may have noticed the band’s long-time pedal steel player Bob Egan is gone, and taking up those reins is Jimmy Bowskill who is touring with the band now. Bowskill is a talented blues artist in his own right, and is also a member of the Sheepdogs; he is also a wizard on the Pedal Steel, Mandolin and Guitar, and was called upon to showcase those skills in Halifax.
Now with other acts, a line-up change can mark a departure for a band, but with Blue Rodeo, it’s business as usual. And the new addition to the band only adds additional talent and maybe a less stringent adherence to their studio template. That’s not to say there’s any sort of assisting backing track, instead the band doesn’t tend to veer outside of the lines all that often during their live shows. But in recent years the band is growing increasingly loose and are willing to improvise at points during the show. It’s just another element that makes each Blue Rodeo show a new (yet familiar) experience.
Saturday night’s show at the Scotiabank Centre might have been the best sounding Blue Rodeo yet; both Keelor and Cuddy sounded rejuvenated and energized, and with the exceptionally talented Colin Cripps handling lead guitar duties, it was another magical Blue Rodeo show. The set list was loaded with those prerequisite tracks “Try”, “Diamond Mine”, “5 Days in May” and “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, but there was plenty of material from the band’s recently released 1000 Arms interwoven to keep the audience interested. As the band wound down their set, they invited the polite folks of Halifax down to the front for a dance party (much to the chagrin of Security).
After a short trip off stage, the band returned for an encore. Cuddy sat behind the piano that was set up off to the right of the stage and played the Blue Rodeo classic “Try”, but it was the closing number “Lost Together” that brought the house down when The Sadies were invited to join the band on stage and that camaraderie was apparent. It was the perfect way to cap off the night. Blue Rodeo has once again shown why they are among Canadian music royalty, and they invited along The Sadies for this tour, a band that is one of the great indie country/rock acts yet hasn’t broken through to the mainstream, but bubbles away just beneath the surface. Their opening set was kinetic and energetic, brimming with a Rockabilly vibe that was lost on the majority of the crowd, but The Sadies sounded great and were the perfect choice to provide support on this tour.