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Blue Rodeo shows its relevance

Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 28, 2008

Reviewed by David McPherson

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Twenty years on, the songs still sound strong. That's the message Blue Rodeo sent to its faithful last night during the first of a three-night stand at venerable Massey Hall.

At 8:45 p.m. a roadie ambled out, turned on a lava lamp stage-left, flipped open a record player and put on an LP, letting the needle drop. On stage right was a streetlamp. As the Spaghetti-Western instrumental played, the mood was set for Blue Rodeo's intimate barn dance.

It's appropriate the band opened their show with this ode to vintage technology since their music is like an old cherished record: while it may sometimes sit forgotten on a basement shelf, it waits like an old friend; always there to remind you how good it still sounds.

With his trademark line: "How you doin' folks?" band leader Jim Cuddy greeted the sold-out crowd before launching into a stripped-down acoustic version of "Five Days in May." The 10-minute plus song featured some great pickin' by co-founder Greg Keelor in the solo section and got the crowd singing along. In this unplugged set, drummer Glenn Milchem kept the band's beat banging a single drum standing centre-stage.

A great cover of James Intveld's "Cryin' Over You," which was a hit for Rosie Flores, followed, showcasing Keelor and Cuddy's trademark harmony.

From there, the pair traded stories and songs for the next couple of hours. Cuddy's candy coated vocals shone on the tender "Three Hours Away" while Keelor kicked things into second gear with the rollicking "Blue House" - both from the band's most recent disc "Small Miracles."

Cuddy at the piano for "Pull Me Through" - from his solo record ("The Light That Guides You Home") was another standout from the first set.

Keelor's turn to shine was during an a cappella singing of the haunting song "Dark Angel," accompanied solely by Bob Packwood's keyboard wizardry. With the microphone cord dangling from his pocket, Keelor waltzed around the stage; it looked like he was set to serenade someone in the front row.

After this mellow moment, the rest of the show was a rollicking ride as hit after hit was trod out. Strapping on his electric guitar, Keelor quipped, "Now it's time to dance" and heeding this cue, fans ran down the aisles; the front row of ole Massey turned into a country-mosh pit for songs like "Heart of Mine," "Head Over Heels" and "Trust Yourself."

The first of three encores was prefaced with fake snow falling from the rafters as the band returned to sing the fan favorite "Hasn't Hit Me Yet?" where, as has become tradition at a Blue Rodeo show, Keelor let the fans sing the entire first verse, accompanied by the band.

This show-stopper was followed by "After the Rain" and the finale, "Lost Together" that saw openers Cuff the Duke join Blue Rodeo, along with friends Luke Doucet and Melissa McClleland for some sweet six-part harmony.

As this twang-fest came to a close, shortly before 11 a.m., 21 years since their debut ("Outskirts"), Blue Rodeo showed they are still relevant and these musical mentors to Canada's generation next show no signs of fading away.