Few things in life are sure things, other than the old adage of Death and Taxes, but Blue Rodeo should be added to that grouping. While you can enter many concert venues, you can’t always be assured of having a great night out: the crowd, the band, your overall mood or any other variables can shift the perception of a show. This isn’t the case with Blue Rodeo; you can guarantee that you are going to hear those classic tunes, a couple of deeper cuts or covers, and everyone will sing “Lost Together” and go home smiling with full hearts.
A week ago the band returned to Halifax and a stage that they are more than comfortable with, as this Oct 22nd show was the band’s 15th show within the Scotiabank/Metro Centre. Making this already special night sparkle even harder was the fact that the band was here to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their beloved 5 Days in July, an album that the band would play in its entirety.
On this tour, there would be no opening act, this was a night to celebrate an iconic album, and the packed house was ready to go from those opening notes of “5 Days in May”. Before the band moved on to the 2nd track, they welcomed Melissa McLelland (of the band Whitehorse), a long-time friend, to the stage to help perform “Bad Timing”, and she also remained on stage throughout the opening 5 Days in July set and would return towards the back half of the 2nd set.
In addition to welcoming Melissa on stage, fans of the band would have noticed the return of the band’s newest member Jimmy Bowskill. Having recorded and toured under the Brooks and Bowskill banner alongside his spouse,
Jimmy rejoined the band to celebrate the Blue Rodeo classic album. It was a welcome return, as he brings an extensive musicality and a collection of guitars, along with lap and pedal steel guitars. Seeing Colin Cripps and him trade scintillating guitar licks at various points in the evening was glorious, as they looked like kids in the candy store.
Consider for a moment, that Jim and Greg formed Blue Rodeo nearly 40 years ago, and welcomed the other stalwart (and Haligonian) Bazil Donovan to the lineup shortly thereafter to play bass. On this night in Halifax, as he always does, his work complemented that of Greg and Jim beautifully.
Another member of the Blue Rodeo flock was none other than Mike Boguski, whose brilliant work on the keys was poignant and dazzling all evening long.. A definite highlight of the night was when the spotlights dimmed, and Mike was given his time to shine, and in the process left many jaws agape. He, much like the band, sounded as good as they ever have.
Having crisscrossed the massive expanse of the great white north countless times over the past 4 decades, it would leave lesser bands worn out and exhausted, and few bands have had the fortune to
enjoy a career as legendary as theirs. While the band may be a bit greyer, and bit wiser, it translates on stage. Whereas newer bands may have a degree of apprehension that keeps them guarded, Blue Rodeo is old hat at playing to sold-out rooms across the country, which makes the performances feel warm and relaxed. We get to hear stories of Greg Keelor’s forlorn love life that has fueled many a song, while his partner Jim Cuddy quips that his love life is far less exciting (having been married to his spouse Rena for nearly 40 years).
The show was split between the opening set that featured the majority of 5 Days in July, with one song held back until later in the evening (traditionally the closer of the main set), and then after a brief intermission the band came back out to perform a set of classic Blue Rodeo material including “Diamond Mine”, “Disappear” (featuring a fantastic solo from Colin Cripps), “Trust Yourself” and “Railroad” the rollicking staple of the band’s set that barrel’s down the track at a breakneck pace until it derails itself in an abundance of fun (and the band’s enjoyment of performing that one live is unmistakable). As the main set was winding down, the band made an agreement with the venue security to allow folks to flock to the front of the stage for the final four songs of the main set (and encore).
As with any show, the lights have to come up sometime. The main set closed out with “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” to provide a bookend of sorts on the evening. For the final two songs of the encore, you could hear the collective swoon of the audience as Jim settled in at the upright piano to perform the Blue Rodeo gems “Try” and “Lost Together”; the latter always results in a heart-swelling sing-a-long. On this night it was no different. Then when the final notes faded into memory, it was time to head home with hearts full and ears ringing just a little bit.
This was the perfect showcase for a band playing their 15th show in the Scotiabank Centre. After 40 years, one might expect a bit of that road weariness to show through, but there was not one ounce of that on display. Instead, this was a band at the top of their game, who had perfected these songs after many years and were more than happy to perform them for their eager fans. For a set list that is largely predictable, the additions of “How Long” and “House of Dreams” from Diamond Mine were fantastic deeper cuts. You can bet many of those in attendance on this October night in 2023 will be in attendance again when the band returns down the road, as a performance from Blue Rodeo is about as close to a sure thing that you will get.