Closing out the first leg of their latest U.S. tour, criminally underappreciated Canadian favorites Blue Rodeo spent Saturday night in Chicago with a surprisingly deep (and, at times, obscure) set list, digging out tracks from a few albums that have been missing from the set in recent years. Considering that their latest album is titled The Things We Left Behind, it’s appropriate to find the band looking back. (Fellow Popdose comrade Ed Murray reviewed the new album earlier this year, just in case you missed it.)
The band returned to Martyrs’, their longtime stomping ground in Chicago, for their second show at the venue this year, following a winter stop this past January. It’s well-known that singer-guitarist Greg Keelor has been struggling with hearing difficulties over the past year, causing the band to make some adjustments to their sound and stage setup to compensate. Some of the more acoustic material (like the set-opening “Cynthia,” from the band’s landmark 1993 release 5 Days in July) seemed strategically placed in the set list for that reason. Additionally, drummer Glenn Milchem used brushes instead of sticks for the duration of the set (previously, during earlier Canadian dates, he’d been using a soundproof shield around the drum kit) to minimize some of the noise onstage.
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The U.S. dates gave Blue Rodeo an opportunity to work through some “new” older material with keyboard player Michael Boguski, who seems to have finally moved past temporary status with the group. Three of the tracks came off of the band’s sadly underrated 2000 release The Days In Between. While Keelor is on record as not being a huge fan of the album, Cuddy apparently has a different viewpoint, and the three Cuddy tracks from that release were a welcome addition to the set. Cuddy set up “Cinema Song” (insert personal moment of swooning here!) as “a track you’ve probably never heard before,” and the song, every bit as spooky and gloomy as the title suggests, is one that should have made its way into the set list a long time ago. (Then again, The Days In Between is one of my favorite Blue Rodeo albums of the past ten years, so I might be biased.)
Keelor introduced “Moon & Tree” (from the band’s 1997 release Tremolo) as “another one you haven’t heard,” and Blue Rodeo opted for the harder-edged Nowhere to Here-era version (which you can find on their In Stereovision DVD compilation). “Moon & Tree” was one of several examples throughout the night that proved that although they might have backed off a bit on the volume, they could still rock it up like they did in the Blue Rodeo shows of old.
The usual ripping guitar solo by Keelor during “5 Days in May” was replaced by a heavy-metal fiddle meltdown courtesy of longtime BR associate Anne Lindsay, a nice surprise addition to the band’s lineup for the U.S. dates, adding fiddle and additional backing vocals. And Boguski proved that he’s found his comfort zone within Blue Rodeo, turning in a keyboard solo during “5 Days” that came damn close to the great keyboard theatrics often heard during James Gray’s tenure with the group. Cuff the Duke vocalist Wayne Petti (a guest on the latest album) added additional vocals and instrumentation to the night (in addition to opening the show with Cuff the Duke).
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Cuddy’s “Candice” was a highlight of the four tracks Blue Rodeo played from the new album. Considering that The Things We Left Behind is a double album, it’s a bit surprising that they’re not featuring more material from it in the set. I would’ve loved to hear a couple more songs from the album — either Keelor’s “Gossip” or “Arizona Dust” from Cuddy would have been nice additions. But make no mistake, I certainly was okay with the set list. Besides the material from The Days In Between and Tremolo (1997), hearing “Finger Lakes” (a true set-list rarity, from 2005’s Are You Ready) and Keelor’s “Fools Like You” (from 1992’s Lost Together) was a wonderful experience.
With the issue of a “temporary” keyboard player apparently behind them, it was good to finally see Blue Rodeo shake up a set list that’s felt stagnant at times in the past couple of years. This was easily the 14th or 15th time I’ve seen the band, and although they’re sadly unknown for the most part here in the States, the fans that are aware don’t take these rare American visits for granted. (The tour resumes on June 22 in Los Angeles; you can find a list of the remaining dates here.)
It Could Happen to You
Fools Like You
One More Night
Don’t Let the Darkness
Always Getting Better
5 Days in May
Heart Like Mine
Moon & Tree
Never Look Back
Head Over Heels
Hasn’t Hit Me Yet
Til I Am Myself Again