It’s Not My First Rodeo, Oh Wait, Yes It Is
By Stacey Mullings
There are a multitude of reasons why music is important in our lives. It’s an expression of our triumphs and struggles; be they personal, social or political. Something to cry to, laugh to, head bang or cut a rug to. When a piece of music resonates powerfully with the listener, it can be incredibly comforting; almost as though the songwriter took the words right out of his or her mouth. For me, that is one of the main things that separate “the greats” from the mediocre artists. That ability to reassure the listener that they are not alone in their joy or strife. I believe that it is this innate talent that has given Blue Rodeo such longevity and a fan base that spans generations.
When Blue Rodeo’s debut album Outskirts was released in 1987 I was just a kid of 7 years old. My eldest sister however, well into her teens, had become an avid fan of the band and I had been exposed to their music initially through her. (Thanks sis!) After years of connecting with each album they released, and singing along each time a Blue Rodeo song came on the radio, one thing that eluded me was why I had never made the effort to see one of their live shows. It was not due to lack of opportunity, as they’ve performed in Edmonton on numerous occasions.
I’m a concert-goer so it hasn’t been due to an apathy towards live performances. I have always heard good things about Blue Rodeo’s live shows but for one excuse or another I had never made it to one. When Blue Rodeo announced that their 25th Anniversary Tour would include 2 nights in Edmonton at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, I committed myself to finally go and see what I’ve been missing all these years.
Blue Rodeo has a rich sound that really benefits from an establishment with good acoustics like “The Jube.” This being their anniversary tour, I knew the show would include many of my beloved favourites, and I was not disappointed. Popular hits like ‘Try’, ‘Hasn’t Hit Me Yet’, and ‘Lost Together’ found their way into the evening’s set. One thing that struck me was how well they performed. Not that I expected a butchered performance or anything, but to sound as good live (if not better) than on a produced recording is a true feat. Every high note hit, and each key in time, I was impressed. While many of their songs are melodic and harmonious, they aren’t without complexity, and it was just refreshing to see them show how skilfully they can play.
Each band member had solos throughout the night, however the most notable were those of keyboardist Michael Boguski. This guy stole the show. You just felt it. Every key, pure soul. There was one instant when Greg Keelor wasn’t 100% thrilled with how a song was going and stopped mid-song stating “These people paid good money to be here. We can do better than that!” and started the song again from the beginning. Blue Rodeo has always had that likeable band personality; Simple everyday guys who care about what they do, want their fans to have a good time and leave feeling inspired in one way or another.
This is one of the other things that appeals to people and something that you don’t get to see by simply listening to an album. You really get a feel for band dynamics and personality by watching members interact onstage. Watching Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor was like watching two brothers who have seen it all and done it all together. There is an undeniable depth and chemistry to their relationship.
I had previously mentioned that Blue Rodeo’s fan base spanned generations, and the audience that filled The Jubilee Auditorium definitely supported that notion. Teens, golden aged, and everyone in between, could be seen tapping their feet or singing along in the crowd. I think that is what happens when an artist’s range is so wide. Blue Rodeo is categorized as a country rock band, but their sound transcends the confines of just one or two musical genres. There are elements of blues, pop and soul scattered throughout their songs and performances. During the Edmonton show I attended, there was a moment during the song ‘After The Rain’ when I was quite certain Aretha Franklin had possessed Jim Cuddy onstage. It was amazing. The band even performed the old gospel song ‘Somebody Touched Me’. The rendition was so good it rivalled many of the artists that recorded the song back in the 60s. It is my guess that this ability to successfully cross musical genres and reach people in a wide range of demographics comes from a bona fide and deep love of all types of music, and a historical understanding of how each type came into being and why they were necessary; really relating to people of all backgrounds and with a different story. From the southern lady in the church choir, to the small town boy trying to find his way, Blue Rodeo has found away to understand, feel and give voice to so many.
In fact, right before performing ‘Fools Like You’, the band took a moment to bring awareness to the Idle No More movement, once again showing the band’s unwavering dedication and support of those who are politically or socially disadvantaged.
I left the January 9th concert feeling motivated, entertained, impressed and with the realization that before seeing Blue Rodeo live, I had no idea how powerful and important their place is in the Canadian music scene.
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