Jim Cuddy’s never been afraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve, and about 400 Red Deer fans loved him for it this week at a concert that just wouldn’t quit.
“We are our own opening act,” revealed Cuddy, who brought a group of musicians (who are not Blue Rodeo) to the Memorial Centre on Wednesday night to perform songs written for his third solo album.
After hearing the expectant cheers, he jokingly added, “Once you hear us play two sets, you might regret that.”
But the seven opening-act-deprived musicians from The Jim Cuddy Band went on to perform a two-and-a-half hour endurance act of a concert. And rather than feeling any regret, audience members leapt to their feet, cheering in the aisles for an encore.
Laid-back, affable Cuddy, dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, got this feverish reaction by doing what he does best — singing songs about love in all its shadings and incarnations.
From celebrity love to lost love, destructive love to enduring love, Cuddy took the audience through the many facets of this most human of emotions, starting with Watch Yourself Go Down, about somebody who’s too busy career-climbing to think about love — or other aspects of life.
Keyboardist Steve O’Connor and trumpeter Bryden Baird provided some nice solo touches to that song, as well as one Cuddy had written for Blue Rodeo, I Could Never Be That Man.
A few other well-known Blue Rodeo tunes were performed to a great crowd reaction, including Five Days in May, Till I Am Myself Again, Bad Timing, and a stellar version of Try, with Cuddy seated at the piano. His voice, which is usually pleasing enough on most songs, soared, filling the 700-seat theatre with its full range and depth.
While hearing a live version of a radio tune can sometimes be disappointing, Cuddy’s performance of Try was breathtaking.
Most of the concert featured Cuddy’s less familiar solo material, such as his rather tepid love declaration to Toronto, Skyscraper Soul, the bluesy Water’s Running’ High (written for his wife’s short movie), and the electrifying Wash Me Down, which was performed unplugged by Cuddy, sensational violinist Anne Lindsay, and talented guitarist Colin Cripps. (Bassist Basil Donovan and drummer Joel Anderson made up the rest of the band.)
Cuddy’s solo songs mostly have the same country-rock feel as those from Blue Rodeo, but the 56-year-old Toronto singer later graciously thanked the audience for not shouting out Blue Rodeo song requests and instead being receptive to his new material.
The touching poetry of Cuddy’s lyrics was evident on Pull Me Through, a haunting song that featured the singer alone on stage, playing the piano. It was written for his uncle upon the death of his wife and best friend of 61 years.
Ready to Fall, about someone who was more head-over-heels for his girlfriend than she was for him, was also moving, as was With You, about the difficult decision to end a relationship.
Aside from these ballads, Cuddy, who chatted amiably about the Red Deer Rebels and gently poked a woman for using a cellphone during his show, was mostly toe-tappingly upbeat. In fact, the early, part of the concert could have varied more in tempo, although the band did mix it up a bit more later on.
Cuddy sang about humourous love in Married Again, based on a true story about a couple who had no sooner signed their divorce papers in Las Vegas than they got to drinking and thinking, “What did I never love about you?” said the singer. The two went through a wedding chapel that same night and were remarried.
His sentimental Everyone Watched the Wedding was about the globally-viewed marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which momentarily distracted billions of people from their humdrum lives last spring.
Cuddy said he admired William for being more self-sacrificing than his party-hardy brother, Harry. “He could have just had fun being a rich prince . . . or he could decide to be king.”
In that same vein, Cuddy could have been satisfied with his Blue Rodeo gig instead of digging deep with solo material that continues to mine the depths of human emotion.
It’s a good thing for us that the relaxed singer refuses to get too comfortable.