Thursday, 21 January 2016


Blue Rodeo Live at the Jube

Alt country band Blue Rodeo is such a fixture in the Canadian cultural landscape that I take the group for granted. They are a fantastically rendered glacier in a Lawren Harris painting, a Stephen Leacock sunshine sketch of a small town, a stubby brown beer bottle and a woolen hockey sweater with the elbows worn out.

Like most Canadian music fans of a certain advancing age, Ann and I have a bunch of Blue Rodeo albums in our record library. And somewhat presumptuously I consider co-founders Greg Keeler and Jim Cuddy friends I’ve never met and so it’s always a pleasure to check in with them and check them out on stage every few years or so. While the band would not help me dispose of a body, they’ve never let me down the four or five times I’ve seen them. Blue Rodeo is a relatively reliable ticket as they generally play the summer festival circuit and then hit the road again during the bitter winter months. (Last July’s ‘Honour the Treaties’ dream double bill with Neil Young here in Edmonton was cancelled; I was crushed albeit unsurprised as bogeyman oil shows do not play as well as petroleum expos in Alberta.)

I cannot name anybody in Blue Rodeo aside from Keelor and Cuddy. I believe a guy who used to play in Wilco may or may not still be a member. And I think way back in the old days there was a guy who played with them who was once in the Battered Wives, a punk band I saw in Montreal’s Theatre St-Denis supporting Elvis Costello and the Attractions. So last night Ann and I found the band’s stage configuration a bit odd. Cuddy, whose voice remains remarkable, was front and centre. To his right was a new to us guitarist who played all the wiggy Crazy Horse parts Keelor used to play. When these two locked in, Cuddy’s back was always to Keelor who stood far stage left, alone out there in the shadow of the outskirts, gamely strumming an acoustic guitar.

Keelor’s not that old, he spent at least a year in the same Montreal high school as my sister who turned 61 last June. He sang as well as ever, full nasal. Yet Ann and I could not help speculating about what is none of our business, Keelor’s health or the seven-piece band’s internal dynamic. I was reminded of the Billy Connolly show we saw in the same venue last November: ‘This arm moves by itself, does what it wants, like I’m carrying an invisible raincoat. Just so you don’t guess at my symptoms, I’ve got Parkinson’s disease. He can fucking have it back.’

I am writing about a long established rock band which may or may not be entering the twilight of its career; I’m not interpreting diplomatic signals from Tehran or the Kremlin. Perhaps I worry too much about nothing. In any case, the new and as yet unreleased songs sprinkled throughout the two hour set bode well for a future album, Keelor’s ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ especially. Performing unheard material for finicky and nostalgic baby boomers is a particularly courageous act in this day and age.

New songs, and even generic if witty stage patter, seem to provoke the unrequited class clowns secreted amidst concert audiences. Heckling is now apparently the hilarious aural equivalent of photo bombing or disrupting television reporters as they attempt to file live stories. Ann and I have heard the loutish drollery at Ringo, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Adams, Gordon Lightfoot and Billy Connolly (that’s nerve). Cuddy and Keelor are experienced pros and they will always give better than they get from an amateur comedian who paid for his ticket. And they back it up with their songs, one great one after another.