|Blue Rodeo performs their annual late August concert at Toronto's Molson Amphiltheatre with Steve Earle in support on Saturday, August 20th, 2011. (Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Over the course of several years, five days in May have morphed into 10 nights in August for roots rocker stalwarts Blue Rodeo.
Almost becoming a version of Gordon Lightfoot's traditional Massey Hall engagements, the band has made a late August show at Toronto's Molson Canadian Amphitheatre an annual event. And although one might think they could change the show a bit – perhaps performing an early album like Casino or Outskirts in its entirety – the group led by singers/guitarists Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor believe that if it's not broken, don't fix it.
The biggest difference this year though was the line-up variations throughout the two-hour set thanks to three additional musicians including Cuff The Duke guitarist Wayne Petti, vocalist Julie Fader and guitarist Colin Cripps. A scorecard was needed to keep track of the combinations.
Regardless, Blue Rodeo began what primarily would be one long sing-along with Hasn't Hit Me Yet as fireworks nearby lit up the sky before a lengthy 5 Days In May showcased keyboardist Michael Boguski's nimble ivory ticklings.
Delivering warm campfire-like toe-tappers such as Cynthia, Head Over Heels and Til I Am Myself Again, Blue Rodeo had some in the large audience dancing in the aisles. But when either Keelor or Cuddy slowed things down the reaction was just as loud. Cuddy – seated at piano – excelled on a soulful After The Rain hitting some high notes (as he would later on Try). Meanwhile, coming from another route but ending up at the same place, Keelor and Fader offered a haunting Dark Angel with sparse accompaniment.
While not saying too much to the crowd, aside from stating the fact they've done this late August concert “10 years in a row,” Keelor joked each fan would receive Cuddy's upcoming solo album Skyscraper Soul as they left. The duo then harmonized around one microphone for the start of a rowdy Heart Like Mine.
One subtle difference was how Keelor seemed to come and go on stage, leaving some guitar parts in the highly capable hands of Cripps. Meanwhile the main set wrapped up with Cuddy going to town on his guitar for a rousing solo on Trust Yourself. Keelor wasn't finished though, with the almost obligatory Lost Together bringing things to a close.
Just as solid as the headliner for these annual shows has been the openers with Kathleen Edwards, The Jayhawks and Kris Kristofferson just a few of the support acts. This year Steve Earle delivered an excellent hour-long set with his backing band The Dukes and Duchesses including wife Allison Moorer. Earle also came out midway through Blue Rodeo's set to do his own nugget I Ain't Ever Satisfied as Cuddy and company added harmonies.
Earle – who has a string of Canadian dates over the next few weeks – opened with the sweet Waitin' On The Sky before the Celtic-leaning Galway Girl won the crowd over. Other highlights included Someday, Guitar Town and the closing Copperhead Road.