Lakefront cottages are the dream, but Blue Rodeo fills in for those who do without. The veteran melodic-twang practitioners, headed by Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, invited 15,000 or so to their summer home at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre, a place of gigantic beer circumstances and often moments of magic. On Saturday, a crowd familiar with the ritual country-rock recital took in an evening of favourite songs and new material too. The band and its paying guests took and they gave, with both sides singing “into the waves of my heart.” The plenty of highlights included the following five:
A pedal steels our heart away
Cynthia was an upbeat number which swung effortlessly and came with steel-guitar decorations from easy Bob Egan. Keelor, who told us the song was set near Alberta’s Lake Louise, sang stress-free about spaceships and trips into the “wide and endless night.” The original version (from 1993’s Five Days in July ) featured a saloon-piano jaunt from James Gray, the band’s former keyboardist who died recently. The same solo here, by Michael Boguski, had a raindrop feel to it. When it was over, Keelor told us that it was “nice to hear you sing.” Likewise.
Weird scenes inside the Diamond Mine
The title track from the 1989 album has grown moodier and more acid-washed as the years have passed. It has reached a Doors-like sprawl now, with a diabolical organ detour and, from Cuddy, heavy electric-guitar colours. By the time it was offered – six songs in – the night was dark enough to break out the sparkle-light background and poetry. “Nothing’s as obvious as what is lost, nothing’s as painful as the cost, so let it shine, let it shine.”
It’s in their nature
This weekend Blue Rodeo announced plans for its new record, In Our Nature, to be released Oct. 29. The trio of tunes now streaming at bluerodeo.com/InOurNature was also unveiled in Toronto: Never Too Late, New Morning Sun and Mattawa, a Keelor-sung road song which moved in an up-tempo, cosmic-Americana way – imagine a Grateful Dead cover of a Lightfoot number – despite its gloomier lyrical bent: “Sadness in the morning comes with the break of day, for the dawn is a thief that steals your dreams away.”
‘Looking back it’s hard to tell, why they stood while others fell’
Cuddy recognized the contributions of the late Gray, mentioning that the keyboardist was with the band when it first played on the site – the former Ontario Place Forum – where they were now standing. The extended version of 5 Days in May which followed was dazzled by a Neil Young-style adventure by Colin Cripps, the hired-gun guitarist brought on board because of the fragile state of Keelor’s ears. (He strictly sticks to acoustic guitar now.) Cuddy, bassist Bazil Donovan and Keelor are the three remaining members; other talented players have come and gone, but the band still has a sense of continuity in its favour. Later, the audience sang along on the finale, “Yeah, this ain’t nothing new to me, well it’s just like going home.” Same time next year, that would be the plan.
A side-trip to the Bahamas
Bahamas is the name of the opening act led by Afie Jurvanen, a tall glass of water and nimble performer of guitar-based indie-pop. Recently signed to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire label, Jurvanen’s package is marked by a stylish brand of mischief and gentle tension. There’s a power packed into his retro-rootsy reverb, fun bop, urbane twang and doo-wop inspirations, but his touch is light and melodic. He’s the James Bond of singing-songwriting guitarists, with all sorts of nifty weapons at his disposal, including a pair of artfully employed female backup singers. At the end of one song they nodded to each other, as if to say “job well done,” and I was thinking much the same thing.
Blue Rodeo headlines the first night of the Music in the Fields Festival in Lucknow, Ont., Aug. 23 and 24.