Blue Rodeo at Massey Hall

Veteran roots rockers showcase old and new material for dedicated fans

BLUE RODEO with DEVIN CUDDY BAND at Massey Hall, Wednesday, February 19. Rating: NNNN

Wednesday evening at Massey Hall was a family affair. The Devin Cuddy Band, led by the son of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, warmed up the polite crowd with a bluesy set, seemingly straight from the banks of the Mississippi River. The band was on the home stretch of a lengthy cross-Canada tour, and while tight, they seemed slightly overwhelmed by playing one of the country’s most legendary venues.

Blue Rodeo, meanwhile, acted like they’d played the hallowed hall a thousand times before, easing the house into their first set, largely comprised of songs from their newest album, In Our Nature.

Guitarist/lead singer Greg Keelor was particularly verbose throughout the evening, which gave the audience a glimpse into the band’s continued artistic drive. He let the crowd in on the heartfelt stories behind many of the songs.

Mattawa, for example, tells the story of his father, a Cape Breton miner who drove back from Northern Ontario every Christmas along Highway 17 with a couple cases of rye and beer. And Paradise revealed the story behind Keelor’s writing spot: a shack in the Haliburton Highlands where he travels alone to get high and write music. The performance that followed was particularly emotive.

By contrast, guitarist/singer Jim Cuddy was all business as he directed the band (totalling seven members) through a punchy Never Too Late.

The evening’s second set celebrated their back catalogue. Diamond Mine saw the at-times reserved crowd come alive and keyboardist Michael Boguski rewarded them with a stirring solo. On lead guitar, Colin Cripps was just as keen to show off his chops as he routinely brought the band’s acoustic melodies to life. Seeing Keelor, Cuddy and Cripps gather in a huddle while strumming the opening to 1997’s Disappear proved the band hasn’t strayed entirely from their barroom roots and judging by the crowd’s delight at that sort of familiarity, that should be their calling card.

As the show progressed, Keelor and Cuddy attempted to out-do each other. Keelor owned the spotlight on a delicate solo rendition of Dark Angel, but not before Cuddy shone during a rare performance of Girl Of Mine.

Trust Yourself got everyone out of their seats, at Cuddy’s request, of course. Many flirted with the idea of dancing in the seats and in the aisles before ushers killed that notion. They ended with a number of classics: Five Days In May showcased their depth, with extended jams as Cuddy worked the stage, ripping a bluesy solo and even kneeling to pose for photos with fans in the front row.

Finally, Devin Cuddy and his band joined for the rousing closer, Lost Together.

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