This past Saturday I hit the road to Toronto with two of my favourite people to see one of our favourite bands perform at Massey Hall, that grande dame of Toronto music halls. Blue Rodeo is on tour, celebrating 25 years as a band, and 25 years of rocking my world. Okay that last part might not be officially what they’re doing, but unofficially, they truly have been making my life a better place for a quarter of a century.
I really, really want to give this show a proper review, and I’m boldly going to attempt that here on my blog (you may let me know whether I pass or fail, of course) but here’s the thing: I have a hard time keeping an open mind and an objective point of view during concerts because while the show is going on, I am SITTING THERE ENJOYING AND FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS. I know it sounds corny and probably kind of deranged, but then you’ve seen me go on a deranged concert tangent before today, friends. But it all comes from having your emotions manipulated by songwriters and musicians for a couple of hours, no? And who can maintain objectivity when people are onstage and forcing you to feel things? And reminding you of things? Seriously, Blue Rodeo, those guys are professional feelings evokers, I’m not even kidding.
So in order to at least try to approach the show in a professional reviewer type frame of mind, I did something I’ve never done at any show. I created a setlist. That’s right, I did. Normally I don’t pay much attention to the order of songs (because of the feelings, duh) and I rely on someone to post a setlist on a website or fan forum or something, and then I can say “oh yeah, that song too!” a couple of days later when I’m checking things out online. But I’m not going to print the list here for you, no. Rather, I’m going to use the setlist as a way to relive the show, and hopefully – no promises, tangential feelings possible! – give you more of a rundown of what was a truly exceptional celebration of an amazing musical career.
To start, let me just set the scene. It’s February in Toronto, and it’s cold. We had been for a nice dinner prior to the show, then picked up our tickets at the box office, and immediately went across the street for a glass of wine. Okay, a bottle of wine. Sufficiently warmed up, we made our way over to the theatre about 15 minutes before show time. The buzz outside Massey was electric, as always. Inside, it was warm and light and inviting with lots of excited fans. We got in, got seated and waited for the magic.
There is no opening act on this tour, which was interesting. And, to be honest, I really liked it that way. I liked that the focus was on Blue Rodeo alone, with no one else to share the spotlight this time. And so, at just after 8pm, the band came onstage to cheers and launched right in to the first song – Cynthia, from Five Days in July. And I thought…ok, nice peppy opener, not my favourite song, but if I’m being brutally honest, there’s probably a good half the audience who ONLY know this one album (or maybe a few other hits from other albums) so, a good choice. This was followed by One More Night, and What Am I Doing Here, and Greg told the story of that song’s origins, a shitty gig at the Erie County Fair. I love that story. Then, a bit of chat about it being the 25th anniversary of Outskirts, which got me excited to hear something from Outskirts… Piranha Pool. I turned to Vivian and said (nay, shrieked) “did he just say Piranha Pool?!?” You guys. I have never heard that song live before, in all my days. Just wow. The it was Bad Timing followed by Diamond Mine (which I luuuurrrvve so much!) and THEN an excellent rendition of Fools Like You, dedicated to Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More Movement, and then my head and my heart just exploded all over the damn place. Then a couple more (How Long and Five Days in May) and then it was intermission.
And, in all honesty, I was just so happy to have that much, I would have left the theatre then and felt it was an excellent evening, but of course they weren’t done just yet. Oh no.
The second half started out with a sort of hanging out in the living room sort of acoustic set featuring several new songs from a forthcoming album (!!!!!). I loved this intimate setting and I was excited to hear some new tunes, but I have to admit that Jim’s songs just didn’t thrill me. I feel like his tunes would be a better fit for the Jim Cuddy Band. I was almost but not quite to the point of saying that he’s lost his edge, but I don’t think that’s quite it. I think maybe he’s misplaced it. I don’t know. On the other hand, Greg’s songs sounded exactly like Blue Rodeo songs and have ALL the edge and then some, and conjure up vivid images and symbolism as always, and that’s why maybe I’m not the best person to critique Cuddy songs, because it’s the Keelor songs that always speak to my heart best. Which leads to the next showstopper – Dark Angel. Just Greg and his guitar with a wee bit of accordion thanks to the excellent keyboard player Mike Boguski, who brings a whole lot of amazing talent to the band. So while I’m here talking about this incredible song, I am going to rant about why people feel the need to shout “You rock!” or “I love this band!” or “Yeeeaaaaaah Woooooo!!” during the quietest moments of this and other songs? Seriously, what is that even? DO NOT DO THAT, audience members. Lots of people did a whole lot of that during the new songs too, which I have never understood. So it’s a song you’ve never heard before, why are you TALKING through it? If you come to a concert to sing along with every single song, save yourself some money and stay home with your CD player. Jesus. Concert etiquette, people!
Ahem. Ok, rant over.
We were treated to a couple of Jim at the piano tunes – Summer Girls and After The Rain, then the title track from Outskirts, which is another song I’d never heard live, and it did not disappoint. One of the best songs ever, in my opinion, and with a very tragic backstory too. I love that. Not the tragedy itself, of course, but the way sometimes horrific events can translate into something beautiful. We got a few more hits and then a very lively version of You’re Everywhere which at one point morphed into Somebody Touched Me, and then morphed back, and that was killer. And that was the end. Until the encore.
The encore was fairly predictable, but excellent nonetheless – Try, Head Over Heels and Lost Together. And I should mention that I love Lost Together, and when there is an opening act, often the band has the openers come out and join them to sing this song, which is really nice. But, I am a selfish Blue Rodeo fan and I actually love, love, love when the band does this song on their own. Which they did Saturday night, so I was very happy with that. The only slight change was having Colin Cripps who joins them onstage for the whole concert now, take the second verse. But I’ll let that slide. Colin is awesome.
After Lost Together, the band left the stage for the second time and then Jim and Greg came back alone with acoustic guitars, stood at the very front of the stage and sang Is It You, and once again, OMG THE FEELINGS. It was gorgeous and heartachingly beautiful and, to me, the perfect way to end the show.
A few other notable notes. It was amazing to see Greg spend the whole night onstage, finally. The last few times I’ve been to a show he has only been able to come out for a few select songs because of ear and hearing issues. The stage set-up is a bit different too, and I think probably for those reasons. For me, that was really the best part of the night.
Massey Hall really is an extraordinary venue, both historically and acoustically. I really love that space, even if the bar is ridiculously small and hard to get in.
A musical night out is best shared with a couple of besties who are also raging fans. That’s just common sense, people. Add in several bottles of wine at the hotel, a lovely dinner at a great restaurant and a whole lot of laughs? And you’ve got yourself a NIGHT. Definitely one for the ages. Thanks, Vivian and Erica. I love our obsession.