Blue Rodeo: Live at The First Ontario Concert Hall, Hamilton

Blue Rodeo

We were very excited to see Blue Rodeo’s most recent tour announcement late last year, especially when finding a Friday night show in Hamilton, ON that worked for our schedule.  What we did not realize until more recently is that this tour coincides with their 35th anniversary too; making this an extra special tour to celebrate such a milestone.  I believe it was around late 1997 or so when I first discovered this band, courtesy of CMT Europe, who had a weekly feature focusing on alternate country bands (I would learn of both The Cowboy Junkies and Jimmy Rankin around this time too – it really was the start of my Canadian music journey).  But many years would pass before the opportunity to attend a Blue Rodeo show came our way, and coincidentally in this very same venue, so you can understand why picking up tickets to this Friday night show was such a big deal for us too.

As an added bonus, Elliott BROOD were cast as the support act for select dates on this tour, giving us the opportunity to see two of our favorites on this night.  And while the trio of Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet and Stephen Pitkin only had the obligatory 35 minute stage time to work with, here is a band that can crank out a lot of popular tunes in such a short space of time.  “We’re actually from around here,” Casey announced, the first of many local references made. “These guys could walk home from here, if it was way warmer. Not tonight probably.”  Dedicating songs to Windsor, ON, (“Jigsaw Heart”), and Dundas, ON, (“The Valley Town”), and also providing a shout-out to local Hamilton store, Cheapies Records and Tapes (who are unfortunately going out of business), the trio earned the respect of the room pretty quickly.

Prior to a performance of “Til The Sun Comes Up Again,” Mark would take time to address the crowd. “This one started out as a lullaby to my daughter,” he shared. “But it turned into a rock song. Or a country song. Who knows?”  The crowd continued to be treated to a selection of their classic hits, with Elliott BROOD cranking out “Northern Air” and the always popular anthem, “Oh, Alberta.”  “How about a break up song? Something sad, but uplifting as well?” Casey asked prior to “Without Again.” “We joke that we specialize in country dance songs for a seated audience.  You’re perfect for this right now.”  Adding one new, unreleased track titled “Bird Dog,” the trio would ultimately wrap up their warm-up duties with the lively “Banjo Song.”  The crowd were pumped up. Mission accomplished.

Elliott BROOD Set List:

  1. Dig A Little Hole
  2. Jigsaw Heart
  3. Til The Sun Comes Up Again
  4. Without Again
  5. Northern Air
  6. Bird Dog (***New Track***)
  7. Oh, Alberta
  8. The Valley Town
  9. Banjo Song

 

What can we possibly say about a live Blue Rodeo show that we’ve not mentioned in the many recaps we’ve written about our concert experiences?  Well, plenty, really!  And while it’s a fairly safe bet that their core of popular live hits are almost guaranteed to be performed during their two hour show, this is a band that loves to spring a few surprises each time they assemble on stage.  Seeing the pedal steel set up behind co-vocalist Greg Keelor’s microphone told us that occasional band member Jimmy Bowskill was joining the group on this evening, rendering goosebumps just at the thought of the depth he adds with his phenomenal touches on steel, fiddle, mandolin and guitar. Bowskill would be granted the task of providing some of those nice surprises too; taking the lead vocals for a candid and beautiful cover of Willie P Bennett’s “Willie’s Diamond Joe.” He would shine during some extended guitar and mandolin solos at certain times too, complementing both guitarist Colin Cripps and pianist Mike Boguski with his unique interpretations of their solo moments.

Entertainment comes in bunches when Greg Keelor is in fine form, and he sure brought his A-game on this evening.  “Well it’s nice to be in Hamilton tonight folks, we love this room,” he stated at the close of “Five Days in May.”  “Nothing better than an orange room.  Not all shows are this nice.” He would then introduce “What Am I Doing Here” in his own quirky style, “This one’s about a real shitty show we had to do one time.”  The Erie County Fair tale was not delivered, but the room did not care – they were ready to enjoy this song, and be dazzled by some extraordinary pedal steel and accordion from both Bowskill and Boguski.  Keelor would shine once more, after experiencing some temporary microphone issues prior to “Disappear.”  “You’re awesome, Greg,” somebody hollered from the front of the room.  “Thank you very much, I’m glad we had this conversation,” Greg instantly retorted, eliciting laughs throughout the room.

Co-vocalist Jim Cuddy was in fine form too, delivering popular hits “Bad Timing” and “Head Over Heels” in perfect fashion, whilst also adding “New Morning Sun” back into the set list – a track we’d never previously had the opportunity to enjoy live until now.  And of course, as Greg Keelor had the room buzzing during “Diamond Mine,” it afforded Cuddy the spotlight for his amazing guitar solo to close the song.  Often underrated as a guitarist when flanked by the super-talented duo of Cripps and Bowskill, Jim embraced this moment with a huge smile, and delivered the outro with enough chops to rival his compadres on stage.  Keelor too, with his prescribed acoustic guitar, shared flashes of his old self, being a little more aggressive with his six string and joining Cripps at times during those electric solo spots.  After 35 years of giving it all on stage, Keelor demonstrated here and now that the passion to perform is still in his heart, no matter what obstacles both age and health constantly throw at him.

And of course, at the back of the stage were the glue of this seven man crew; bassist Bazil Donovan and drummer Glenn Milchem played hard all evening, keeping everything tight and in perfect time.  On occasion, Donovan would be joined onstage by his daughter Dahlia, transitioning to parent/bassist with ease, and with the natural aura of a proud father about him each time she appeared.  With the band having fun, Jim Cuddy strongly encouraged the crowd to do the same prior to performing “Til I Am Myself Again.”  “Alright, that’s enough sitting down folks,” he demanded. “Everybody up!  Come on, let’s get some energy in this room.  Everybody up!”  From this moment on, every seat in the house became redundant.

Closing their set as always with the rousing, anthemic “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” (and Jimmy Bowskill – that pedal steel solo was pure gold), Blue Rodeo were content to let the audience applaud their appreciation before returning to the stage for their encore.  As is customary, Bazil was invited to sing one number, opting to cover Shel Silverstein’s classic, “I Got Stoned and I Missed It,” between Cuddy’s “Try” and Keelor’s (and Blue Rodeo’s) finale, “Lost Together.”  Witnessing Elliott BROOD joining the band on stage for this track was extra special for us, enjoying Mark Sasso’s gravel-laced rendition of the second verse.  A perfect finale to a perfect evening of music.  Ah, a date with both Elliott BROOD and Blue Rodeo for our first Canadian visit of the new decade – how can we top this one anytime soon?

Blue Rodeo Set List:

  1. Five Days In May
  2. What Am I Doing Here
  3. I Can’t Hide This Anymore
  4. Disappear
  5. Head Over Heels
  6. Bad Timing
  7. Diamond Mine
  8. Fools Like You
  9. I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan cover)
  10. New Morning Sun
  11. Railroad
  12. After The Rain
  13. Willie’s Diamond Joe (Willie P Bennett cover)
  14. You’re Everywhere
  15. Til I Am Myself Again
  16. Hasn’t Hit Me Yet

Encore:

  1. Try
  2. I Got Stoned And I Missed It (Shel Silverstein cover)
  3. Lost Together
Martin Noakes

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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