The hand-scrawled placards came out halfway through this week’s Blue Rodeo concert at the Centrium in Red Deer.
“I (heart) Blue Rodeo,” and “Blue Rodeo is #1,” were exuberantly waved by three women as they grooved to the group’s Til I Am Myself hit.
The same song prompted a middle-aged man wearing a panda hat with ear flaps to scream incomprehensible (and hopefully complimentary) things at the stage.
By the time two gals with beers in their hands stood up and started dancing in the stands, the party had officially started.
About 3,000 Central Albertans turned out on Thursday night to see one of Canada’s favourite bands mark a quarter century of playing together. And it was quite a celebration.
But fans had to wait for the cake, since most of Blue Rodeo’s big hits weren’t performed until after intermission.
Things kicked off with Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and crew playing New Morning Sun, off the group’s latest album, In Our Nature. The track with lyrics about “our world’s getting smaller everyday” proved to be more upbeat than most of the new ones that followed.
Mattawa was Keelor’s sober tribute to Hwy 17, which goes from east of Ottawa to the Manitoba border. “It’s a road I’ve often travelled with a broken heart,” admitted the songwriter, who went on to perform two more hurtin’ songs — Wondering and Tara’s Blues, which featured Cuddy on harmonica.
Both were written to console a friend of Keelor’s whose boyfriend of eight years had just left her. But Keelor admitted he needed to write Wondering in order to soften the blow of Tara’s Blues, which “just destroyed” his upset friend, as it contained lines such as “someone new is holding you.”
“I felt like a sh-t,” admitted Mr. Sensitivity Keelor. “I felt really bad.”
Things at the Centrium got a tad cheerier when the singer launched into Never Too Late, and Cuddy performed the country-flavoured Tell Me Again, a perfect two-stepping song that featured some cool National guitar playing by Bob Egan.
The lanky, cowboy-shirted Cuddy was later bathed in blue stage lights as he crooned the poignant Made Up Your Mind, about having the courage to stick it out through the hard times. He also let his multi-range voice loose on When the Truth Comes Out, leaving the audience electrified.
While In Your Nature contains some lovely, contemplative material, the energy level of the first half of the concert suffered, somewhat, due to an unvaried tempo and lack of lively tunes.
After performing Paradise (which actually referred to taking a last breath on a deathbed!) the band wisely chose to break things up by covering the Rolling Stones’ rollicking The Last Time, which spotlighted Mike Boguski on keyboards.
“This is the part where we thought you might need a break from the new record,” said Cuddy — a good instinct, for sure.
The audience really warmed up in the second half of the concert, which was all about delivering past hits.
The gravelly-voiced Keelor sang Diamond Mine, which also offered a stunning guitar solo by Colin Cripps, and Disappear, with Boguski doing some killer chording.
Keelor’s touching rendition of Dark Angel got one of the night’s biggest reactions, with shrieks and applause from the audience.
Cuddy’s resonant vocals once again shone on Head Over Heels, a song that got at least one glow stick waving, and prompted a standing ovation from dozens of fans.
His performance of After the Rain ended with amazing prolonged drumming by Glenn Milchem and Bazil Donovan on bass.
When a female fan shouted out her adoration, Cuddy jokingly replied, “I appreciate all the love. I just have to know you love me more than Greg — you can’t love both of us!”
Other than that, there wasn’t a lot of time for banter, since hit after hit kept coming, including Girl of Mine, Trust Yourself, Rose-Coloured Glasses, House of Dreams, and Five Days in May. And the concert wrapped up with Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.
But the best was yet to come.
Blue Rodeo performed Try as an encore, then brought out all four musicians from the opening act, The Devin Cuddy Band, to join in singing Lost Together.
There were a total of 11 musicians on stage playing, by my count, five guitars.
Jim’s son Devin, who had earlier impressed with his eclectic performances of Sidewalk in the South, Signal Hill and Maggie’s Hardware Store, took turns singing, as virtual stars twinkled on a large screen behind the stage.
It was pure magic, especially for fans who stood next to their own children in the risers — a sure and bittersweet sign of time moving on.