Mon, Jan 14, 2013.
If you rank Canada's cities by population, Moncton doesn't come close to being in the top 25. It sits way down the list, at #79. But there was no way Blue Rodeo could pass up a New Brunswick date on its current Silver Anniversary tour, limited to 25 cities to honour the group's 25 years. Jim Cuddy explains he'd just take too much flak if the province was left off the map: "My wife's family is from N.B., Saint John, and we went down there every year for several summers, with the kids. So i have a lot of friends there, that we have still kept. I always get a lot of comments from New Brunswick."
Most other cities weren't so lucky. Once the group realized they were locked into just the 25 dates, the requests for shows became a logistical problem. "It's sort of funny, trying to do 25 cities," admits Cuddy. "It's difficult because of scheduling. We usually do 50-60 cities, which we'd rather do." And they could do a lot more. 25 years on, the band continues to be one of the top touring draws in the country, one of the few safe bets to sell out anything from soft-seat theatres to casinos to hockey rinks, whatever and whenever they choose.
This tour is special because of the celebration of the group's first 25, and the simultaneous release of their first-ever boxed set. Blue Rodeo 1987-1993 is a big, beautiful 8-CD package that sees new remasters of the group's first five albums, plus three disks of special bonuses. First is a remix of the band's iconic debut, Outskirts. Co-founder Greg Keelor has always wanted a chance to make the record sound more like the rough-and-tumble bar band they were at the time, and takes some of the polish out of the original tapes, putting back more of the energy. Then there's a treasure-trove of demos recording in preparation of the band's Casino album, including some tracks that didn't make the final release. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, is a full disc of previously unheard material, some completely unreleased from back in the day, and others radically different versions of material, including out-takes from the 5 Days In July album. For Cuddy, the goal was give fans some more music from this golden period. "I think it's interesting to hear the modern sheen taken off Outskirts," he confirms. "But other than that we tried to add to the experience. That's why the bonus disc, and the demos. There was a lot of stuff that happened in there, losing Bobby Wiseman and Cleve (Anderson), getting Glenn Milchem, This was a big deal. It was a very significant time for us."
The anniversary tour will differ a bit from the usual Rodeo round-up, with some emphasis placed on earlier material Cuddy says this includes some rarely-performed cuts: "From the first album, we did Piranha Pool the other night, Outskirts, we haven't played that in at least ten years." But they're hardly a heritage act either, so don't expect a greatest hits. "There's an acoustic campfire thing we do in the middle, that has a lot of the new stuff."
What is new, or at least recent, and something New Brunswick fans won't be too familiar with, is the current live arrangement of instruments. A couple of years ago, Keelor started to suffer severe hearing issues, including a sensitivity to loud noise. In order to keep on the road, he's had to switch to acoustic guitar. To keep up the fire power, long-time friend and Cuddy solo band member Colin Cripps has joined as a touring guitar player. "He's doing pretty good," says Cuddy of Keelor. "We've rearranged things to make things comfortable for him. It was a big change, but with some discussion and yelling, we've got it together. Now we can do anything we've ever recorded live. Colin handles the lead guitar now, and he's working harder than me."
Blue Rodeo plays Casino New Brunswick in Moncton next Monday, Jan. 21st.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).