blue rodeo

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – 1000 Arms (2016)

BLUE RODEO – 1000 Arms (2016 Warner)

It’s hard keeping up with Blue Rodeo! They’re always working, either as a band or on their own projects. They’ve released new albums consistently without gaps. That’s 15 studio albums (one of them a double) spanning 30 years. Countless amazing songs…but mathematically their growth have kept me from growing with their new music as much as the old. There are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week, and it’s hard to imagine the day that 1000 Arms will surpass Five Days in July for number of spins.  It’s inevitable that when listening to newer Blue Rodeo music, it doesn’t feel as close to you as the early stuff.

Blue Rodeo maintain their knack for incredible songs and playing on 1000 Arms.  Greg Keelor conjures up the same old, not-quite-broken spirits as before.  “Nothing I ever do is good for you, will I ever realize?  You’re never satisfied.”  Biting lyrics, chiming mandolin and perfect Cuddy/Keelor harmonies combine to make the opener “Hard to Remember” a future classic.  Jim Cuddy takes the wheel next on an upbeat number called “I Can’t Hide My Feelings Anymore”.  When has Jim ever hid his feelings?  Not the point — another great tune.

The disc is loaded with great tunes.  “Jimmy Fall Down” (vocals: Keelor) maintains the bright, upbeat direction.  Things don’t slow down until track 4, “Long Hard Life”.  It’s quieter but no less enjoyable.  It’s only a temporary reprieve, as “Rabbit’s Foot” brings a classic guitar vibe.  The title track is old style Cuddy storytelling.  Greg’s penchant for slow and dramatic music is carried on by “Dust to Gold”.  There is even sly humour on “Superstar”, something you don’t always get with a Blue Rodeo album.  “Start a business, organics door to door, ’cause nobody buys records here anymore.”

We could go on and continue to describe this batch of new tunes, but rest assured there are no duds.  (Do stay tuned for a heavy exotic turn on closing track “The Flame”.)  I hope that, over time, these songs become as much a part of me as the old tunes.  There’s little difference in terms of quality, and the musicianship is always tops.  Colin Cripps would be responsible for many of the tasteful guitar solos, but 1000 Arms is the last Blue Rodeo album to feature mandolin player (and Kitchener, Ontario resident) Bob Egan.  (That’s why he’s front and center of the band photo.)  Bob departed after making this one, and he went out in great style.

4/5 stars

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#601: Rob, Jedi Master of Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #601: Rob, Jedi Master of Rock

I like to describe some of my older friends who passed on their rock knowledge to me as “Jedi masters”.  The first “Jedi masters” of rock in my life were neighbors Bob and George, who got me started.  I taped a lot of albums off those two guys until I no longer needed their guidance.  I built a killer collection, but at Laurier University I met my next Jedi master.

His name was Rob, and he has appeared in these pages before.  Rob was the star of Record Store Tales Part 32:  Pranks.  He’s always been a little bit of a prankster.  At school, he was an assistant in the Philosophy department.  He told me about a prank involving a $100 bill being taped to a classroom ceiling, and observing the confused expressions.  He liked to prank me in the Record Store too.  In addition to the Deep Purple joke from Part 32, he also liked to sneakily move discs all over the store.  He enjoyed watching me try and figure out what was changed.  He kept everything in plain sight, just the wrong spots.  Rob was good for a laugh.  He actually went to highschool with the store owner; they are the same age.  And don’t worry, Rob didn’t leave without making sure I got all the discs back where they belonged.

I went to the same highschool as those guys, though I was a bit younger.  Rob and I had some mutual friends (like Bob), but we didn’t actually meet until University.  I recognized him from a Whitesnake highschool air band.  Rob played David Coverdale in 1987, but he refused to do a popular Whitesnake tune.  Instead he did “Slow An’ Easy” from 1984’s Slide It In, which nobody else at school knew…except me.  Rob was disqualified, for doing some very authentic mic stand moves a-la David Coverdale…perhaps a bit too authentic.  The school wasn’t impressed when Rob seemed to use the mic stand as a giant phallus, but that’s Coverdale for you.  That’s as authentic as a Whitesnake air band could get.  He may have been disqualified but he did make it into the yearbook.

Rob’s Jedi teachings involved Whitesnake and Coverdale’s previous band, Deep Purple.  We covered the whole family tree from Rainbow to Glenn Hughes and Trapeze.  He educated me on the labyrinthine Purple back catalogue.  Well before all their rarities were reissued on CD, he recorded songs for me.  Whitesnake’s rarities “Need Your Love So Bad”, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”, and “Looking For Love” were among them.  He also recorded a couple rare Deep Purple albums – Power House, and The Anthology (not to be confused with the unrelated CD Anthology), with loads of songs you couldn’t find on CD.  It was years before these tracks were reissued officially, but I was already familiar with great Deep Purple tunes like “Painted Horse” when they were.

He and I were in touch on and off over the years.  I remember a memorable dinner at East Side Marios, when he confused the server by orderings two entrées.  He finished one, enjoyed it, and was still hungry so he ordered another.  That really seemed to confuse her.  Rob also had no use for social pleasantries.  He hated when people would ask, “How are you?” when he knew it was just something to say and they didn’t actually want to know.  The socially acceptable answer would be “I’m good, and you?”  Rob’s answer would be “my psoriasis is flaring up”.  I always liked that about him.  No bullshit.

I lost track of Rob about five years ago, shortly after I launched Record Store Tales. But he’s still around.  My buddy Craig over at 105.7 DaveRocks received a mysterious email from a listener, and it could only have come from Rob.

 

Hey Craig,
I heard LeBrain’s name mentioned today and I wondered whether he could answer that one impossible Van Halen question: when is Van Halen Best Of Volume II going to be released? He couldn’t answer that question back in the [Record Store] days.

 

Ah yes, the mysterious Van Halen Best Of Volume II that never materialized.  Rob remembered!  In 1996 when Volume I was released, one of my most hated customer questions was “When is Volume II coming out?”

The frequency of that question drove me nuts.  Hey, I get it.  Volume I didn’t have your favourite song(s).  But Van Halen had a lot of publicity in 1996 due to the aborted reunion with David Lee Roth.  It was common knowledge that they were working on a new album with Gary Cherone.  Why did so many people assume their next release would be Volume II?  Probably because they’d rather buy that than something new.  After getting that question over and over and over and over, I began answering “In 18 years.”  Customers would be baffled.  Why 18 years?  Because that’s how long it took them to put out Volume I.  I was wrong though.  More than 18 years have passed and Volume II is never coming.

I understand why Van Halen wanted to call their best of “Volume I”.  It was to make clear that the band was not done; that this was only the first, and they had no plans on quitting.  Unfortunately the message that fans heard from that title was “Volume I is half of a whole”.  Naming it Volume I was a bad move.  People were far more interested in the mythical Volume II than anything new by Van Halen.

It’s funny how something like that can jog a million memories.  Rob’s email to Craig concluded:

 

If you have time for a request can you play Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together” and dedicate it to LeBrain? Let’s see whether it will jar any memories.

 

You got me there.  I played Blue Rodeo in store a lot, including that song, but no other memories are jarred.  Sorry Rob!  I’ll have to email him and find out what the story was!*

Nice to hear from the old Jedi masters again.  I hope you’re doing well Rob, and I don’t say that just out of social obligation!

 

 

 

* Update:  I contacted Rob and found out.  His memory is incredible.  “I recall you mentioned some of the difficulties you had with [an ex-girlfriend] in relation to communicating with one another. You listened to Blue Rodeo’s song ‘Lost Together’ as a way of making sense of that relationship during that particular time.”

Sunday Chuckle: 8:30 am Walmart Run

When you know the guy ran out of toilet paper at 8:30 am on a Saturday, but didn’t want to put just the toilet paper on his debit card.

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And then I got home and it turns out I bought the “wrong” toilet paper.

REVIEW: The Whitlams – Eternal Nightcap (2000 Canadian version)

Scan_20160513THE WHITLAMS – Eternal Nightcap (2000 Black Yak Canadian version)

I honestly can’t remember who I saw the Whitlams opening for in 2000. I know it was the Center in the Square in Kitchener, so by process of elimination, they were probably opening for Blue Rodeo on their Days In Between tour.*  I actually expected a country band, because I confused the Whitlams with the Wilkinsons.  What I got, much to my delight, was an Australian piano-based pop rock band with witty lyrics and a couple absolutely unforgettable songs.  I like piano rock:  Ben Folds, or Elton John for example.  You can see similarities with both in the Whitlams.

At that time the Whitlams were in Canada promoting Eternal Nightcap, essentially a compilation of selections from their Australian releases.  Having never heard those albums, I don’t know if you would consider this a “best of” or not, but upon listening for the first time, I was clueless that these songs weren’t all from one album.  They sound cohesive.

The opening track “No Aphrodisiac” showcases Tim Freedman on vocals and piano with a melancholy opener.  One of the most impressive things about the Whitlams is their lyrical prowess.  “There’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness,” sings Freedman.  Ain’t it the truth?  It’s “I Make Hamburgers” that has perhaps the wittiest words.  “I make hamburgers, I get all the girls,” sings Freedman, and somehow I believe him in this amusing tale.

Jazz pervades “You Sound Like Louis Burdett” until the pure pop chorus.  “All my friends are fuck-ups, but they’re fun to have around.”  Eternal Nightcap is a diverse album, and the “Charlie” suite (three songs) has a quieter, more serious tone.  I have wondered if these songs are at least partly based on the Whitlams’ late guitarist, Stevie Plunder.  “You’re killing your soul with an audience looking on.”  Plunder died of a suspected suicide.  These are beautiful songs, but lyrically very heavy.  Plunder himself sings “Following My Own Tracks”, a great rock tune that actually reminds me a lot of early Blue Rodeo — the Greg Keelor songs.  Then there is some Beatles-y mellotron on “Melbourne”, a mid-tempo track that I remember them opening with at the Kitchener show.

With such a strong mixture of soft and rocking material, coupled with hard to forget melodies and skilled wordmanship, Eternal Nightcap (the Canadian version anyway) is a pretty easy CD to justify adding to your collection.  Now, to be transparent and honest, I will say that I did own a copy of their next album Torch the Moon, given to me by a co-worker.  I didn’t keep it because there was nothing on it that struck me as memorable like Eternal Nightcap.  Whether or not this CD is all the Whitlams you need, I cannot say.

4.5/5 stars

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*Confirmed via the Wikipedias.

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Live at Massey Hall (2015)

Scan_20160426BLUE RODEO – Live at Massey Hall (2015 Warner)

Things have changed a lot since the last time I saw Blue Rodeo in the mid-2000’s. They have added a few more albums to the oeuvre, and a few more members to the band. The expansion of Blue Rodeo to a seven-piece band has made their live sound smoother, the rough edges sanded off. Due to Greg Keelor’s hearing loss, the singer and author of some of the most gonzo country-rock guitar solos north of the 47th was forced to unplug, and focus on the acoustic guitar instead. Colin Cripps (Crash Vegas), who had filled in before, was drafted full time to fill the guitar sound. With Kitchener resident Bob Egan on slide and various other stringed instruments, there are now four guitar players in Blue Rodeo. The newest member is Michael Boguski on various keyed instruments.

According to the band, one of the solutions to Greg’s hearing issues was changing over to in-ear monitors. There was a rough shake down period to get used to this setup, timid performances during which the band says they failed to take chances live. For Blue Rodeo to issue a new live album, one must assume these issues have been ironed out. Live at Massey Hall is the band’s first live album since 2008’s Blue Road.  It is also their shortest live album with only one disc inside (Blue Road was more of a video album, with unique CD and DVD content).

Supporting the studio album In Our Nature, the Massey Hall album has a little bit of newer material, but is dominated by past hits.  Most of the new songs are clumped together in the middle of the CD:  “New Morning Sun”, “Tara’s Blues”, “Tell Me Again” and “When the Truth Comes Out”.  There is no drop of quality during this four-song clump, in fact “New Morning Sun” almost sounds as if lifted from Blue Rodeo’s late-80’s heyday.  The last of the new songs, “Paradise”, is left closer to the end, before the rousing finale of “5 Days in May” and “Lost Together”.

Plenty of hits abound, with only “Try” obviously absent.  There are also a couple of surprise tracks: the rarely played “Girl of Mine” from Diamond Mine, and “Disappear” from Tremolo.  The 8:04 “Disappear” is the album highlight, recalling the mighty feats of Blue Rodeo onstage in the 1990’s.  It rivals “Diamond Mine” for drama and instrumental gold, but has a beautiful melancholy power.

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Old man time may have taken his toll on Greg’s hearing.  Jim’s voice might be a little lower and huskier than it used to be.  This band, surely one of the best live acts Canada has produced, survives on.  The studio albums may no longer hit the charts like they used to, but Blue Rodeo have always seemed truly at home on the stage.  With the addition of Cripps (helping out on backing vocals as well as guitar), the band are still able to do the big bold rock songs like “Lost Together” and “Diamond Mine” at full strength.

There was once a time when the music press questioned if Blue Rodeo could remain a vital force without original member Bobby Wiseman on keyboards.  That was 1992.  Not only have they remained just as challenging as ever, but they have continued to evolve and grow.  Now it feels as if things have come full circle, back to that point in the mid-90’s when we realized the sky was the only limit for this band.  We look forward to whatever Blue Rodeo produce next.

4/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Just Like a Vacation / “Joker’s Wild” bonus track (1999)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Mike and Aaron will be doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

BLUE RODEO – Just Like a Vacation / “Joker’s Wild” bonus track from Stardust Picnic  (1999 Warner)

I spent a lot of days in the summer of 1999 working in the Record Store in Cambridge. That was T-Rev’s store, normally, but he was out of town. He was Ajax, I think, helping build our next franchise. T-Rev is handy so his role was, in theory, supposed to transition to building new stores full time. That never fully happened, which in a way was a good thing, because they never had a plan for filling T-Rev’s time slot as store manager in Cambridge! In the interim, they sent me there and I was responsible for managing two stores. Not the first time and certainly not the last time.

’99 was a great summer for double live albums. There were two in particular I played daily: Sloan’s 4 Nights at the Palais Royale, and Blue Rodeo’s Just Like a Vacation.  Despite the added stress and mileage on the car, these two double live albums helped ensure that summer was hot and fresh with great music.  Blue Rodeo are one of the greatest live bands I’ve seen and I had long been awaiting a full-on double CD set of the live concert experience.

Just Like a Vacation is the absolutely perfect document of the Blue Rodeo experience circa 1999.  Hard edged and jamming, Blue Rodeo were at this time a mixture of country crooning and long noisy Neil Young jams.  The set is taken from a variety of shows and assembled into a coherent running order.  Perhaps the first track, the upbeat country of “Til I am Myself Again” was recorded in Stratford; Jim warns the crowd they may be snowed in that night, a common threat at the Stratford festival during their annual show there!

The first seven Blue Rodeo albums, from Outskirts (1987) to Tremolo (1997) are all essential listening.  This live set is loaded heavy with some of the best songs from that era, from the tender Jim Cuddy ballads (“Try”, “After the Rain”, “Bad Timing”) to the more epic Greg Keelor blasts of power:  “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, “Diamond Mine”, “Girl in Green”.  There’s country jazz (“Piranha Pool”), songs for singalongs (“Cynthia”) and even comedic stories of heartbreak (“Florida”).  Jaw-dropping musicianship ensures there is never a dull moment.  Even the slow dance hit ballad “After the Rain” boasts a long, noisy guitar jam at the end.  Blue Rodeo are fearless on stage and this album delivers that.

Some fans noticed that earlier tracks from Outskirts such as “Rebel” and “Joker’s Wild” were seldom played as Blue Rodeo amassed more and more studio albums.  Thanks to HMV, one bonus track is available to add to this live collection:  “Joker’s Wild”, from their promotional Stardust Picnic Sampler CD.  The back cover of the Stardust CD claims there was no room left for “Joker’s Wild” on Just Like a Vacation, but that’s not true.  The first disc is under an hour, and the second is 1:07.  Lots of room on either disc for a four minute bonus track!  Regardless, here is “Joker’s Wild”, a rarity to be sure since it was never available for purchase.  “Joker’s Wild” is done acoustically, very different from the original version.  It transforms from a spy movie theme to a swampy jam with slide and fiddle.

Sure, you could go and buy a Blue Rodeo Greatest Hits CD with your hard-earned dollars.  That’ll get you 14 songs; this’ll get you 22.  Blue Rodeo songs are just as great live as they were in the studio, just different.  You won’t have to suffer through a too-loud audience track, so get Just Like a Vacation instead and experience Blue Rodeo in the venue they were intended for — the stage.  There are even liner notes with a story or two about every song.  It’s a package to be enjoyed for a long period of time, and years later you will still smile.

5/5 stars

 

#458: The LeBrain 2015 Christmas Extraganza! – full report

GETTING MORE TALE #458: The LeBrain 2015 Christmas Extraganza! – full report

Scraps of turkey remain, wrapped in tinfoil, awaiting soup or sandwiches to be made.  The cranberry sauce, if not used up, has been thrown out along with a mountain of cardboard and paper packaging.  Bank balances are lower, but hearts are fuller.  Christmas has come and gone.

Here we sit on the Monday after, hopefully still on vacation, to enjoy the spoils.

The first thing I need to address personally is this:  Happy birthday to my sister Kathryn!  Kathryn requested a birthday review this year, but unfortunately I just have not had the time to do it.  I will review her request sometime in early 2016!

The first Christmas gift that I opened came in the mail from Aaron who sneakily did this even though he certainly didn’t have to!  And I know he has sent Christmas gifts to other folks in the community.  What a generous lad!  I know he loves to hear about how we react to his surprises, so I had Mrs. LeBrain record mine.  This was done on the evening of the 22nd. Thanks Aaron!

You can’t have too many Kiss shirts!  And that Flying Colors blu-ray is going to be amazing.  In fact I’m already arranging a group screening for review purposes!

On the 23rd, we had a half day at work, and a huge Christmas feast for lunch. This was catered in by a company called Platters that we’d never tried before. It was easily the best catered meal we have had in my eight Christmases at the company. Lots of laughs and handshakes, and then by 1:00, most people had taken off for the Christmas break. For some of us though, a long day was still ahead! We had taken on a job that was new to us only a week before. The job had to be completed and shipped on the 23rd, so we had a skeleton crew left, working hard to get this accomplished. I was responsible for coordinating the customs paperwork, and so I was among the stragglers. Around 5:00, the job was finally completed and I crawled home exhausted to begin my holiday. It sure felt amazing to walk in that door!

Mail had arrived, and in the box was Marillion’s latest fan club-only Christmas CD!  Free gifts given only to fan club members, I collect these things which are true rarities. I’m only missing the first two (1998 and 1999). This year is a double live called A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas.

On December 24th, Christmas Eve, it was so warm outside that I was wearing shorts. In all my years I have never seen a Christmas without any snow. This was the first. We’ve had blizzards and mild weather but nothing like this!

Christmas in shorts

Christmas in shorts

Over the course of the next 24 hours, there were some pretty damn cool gifts given and received.  Here are the musical highlights.  All are still sealed, so as to savour every delightful moment.  As usual, I have some intensive listening to do in the weeks and months to come.  Do you see something here you’d like reviewed?

It’s a very Purple Christmas this year!  Hard Road is a 5 disc box set containing the first three Purple albums with bonus tracks, and also the rare original mono mixes, which I have never heard before.  This renders even the best remastered versions of the early Purple CDs obsolete.  I need someone to gift them to!  As for the Rainbow, and Wacken sets…this is a lot of hours of music.  Include that Flying Colors double live as part of my Purple Christmas!

The live rock continues:

Two new releases and one classic.  Many more hours of incredible musicianship to be had right here.  But what’s Christmas without some kind of crazy deluxe edition boxed set?

I originally acquired Too Old to Rock ‘N’ Roll in 2012, so I don’t know it very intimately.  I do like it though, so why not go for the whole hog?  This box set contains: the original album, the previous bonus tracks with a bunch more on top, the original quadrophonic mix transferred to DVD for the 4.0 quad experience, a TV special, bonus video features such as a tribute to the late bassist John Glascock, and lots more.  Go big or go home!

Then we have this massive Led Zeppelin book set, The Ultimate Collection by Chris Welch, including a DVD and an enormous amount of reproduction memorabilia:

Sheer overload!  When am I going to have time to go through all this?  I only have a week off!

Fortunately, I have already enjoyed these two movies, Ted 2 and Ant-Man.  Great way to enjoy Boxing Day.

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New Transformers and nerd-stuffs also arrived chez LeBrain.  My mom even bought me a selfie stick Nerd Stick.  Look at the aerial photo I took of her Christmas village!  In fact, the only snow in town could be found in her Christmas village.

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Nerd stuffs:

Finally, I needed a new coffee mug.  I need a cup that can comfortably hold 12 oz.  Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom delivered, with my brand new Vader mug.  Dark side or not, that’s just a light roast inside him.  This is actually quite a nice mug, with silver paint applications on Vader’s mask.  It’s odd to see the Disney logo on anything I own, but there it was on the box.  I believe that Lord Vader will be accompanying me as I journey through the light and dark sides of live music sets!

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I hope everyone had a merry, merry Christmas.  Next up:  the new year.  And you know what that means!  Year end lists!  Next time on Getting More Tale.

LeBrain

#440: What’s the Best Concert You’ve Ever Seen?

GETTING MORE TALE #440: What’s the Best Concert You’ve Ever Seen?

What’s the best concert you have ever been to?  Maybe it was that band that was always on your bucket list.  Perhaps it was a group who puts on an incredible spectacle, or perhaps even your first show.  Maybe you’ve seen so many shows that you don’t even know where to begin!

I’ve had a lot of memorable concerts in my years.

In 1983, my dad took me to see Johnny Cash at the Center in the Square in Kitchener.  My dad worked for Canada Trust, and Johnny was doing a promotional deal with them and their new “Johnny Cash” money machines.    In light of that, Johnny introduced himself at the start of the show as “I’m Johnny Cash, 24 hour money machine.”  Canada Trust even printed their own “Johnny Cash” money.  I wish I still had some.   Cash played all his classics such as “Orange Blossom Special” and “I Got Stripes”.  June Carter kicked off her shoes.  Not a bad first concert experience at all.

In ’87 I finally saw my first rock show.  At the same venue, Helix rolled into town headlining for their new Wild in the Streets album.  Opening for them were a so-so pop rock band from Prince Edward Island called Haywire.  Their big hit was called “Dance Desire” and the girls were going nuts for them.  They were all going ga-ga for the singer Paul MacAusland.  (Years and years later I actually dated a cousin of his.)  I thought they sucked.  The guitar player Marvin Birt was good, but MacAusland’s idea of stage moves involved him lying down flat on his face!

Helix stormed the stage with “No Rest for the Wicked” and put on an incredible show, involving Brian Vollmer climbing the scaffolding into the loges.  He then ran from there onto the mezzanine, right past us, as I was too shy to hold out my hand for him to slap!  Then drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz mooned the crowd…all backed by high octane Canadian rock and roll.  Every time I have seen Helix, Vollmer has been an energetic mobile threat.  Helix showed us that a rock show was about the on-stage energy rather than lights and explosions.

Best show I’ve ever seen?  No, but it’s in the top ten.

Sometimes it’s the smaller shows that matter most.  In the late 90’s I went to see local Cambridge band The Candidates.  I believe it was a CD release party.  They were playing hard, and drummer Robbie Hancock busted his drum pedal mid-song.  After the show, I told him I thought it was actually their best performance yet.  He didn’t agree, but I told him, “The drum pedal stuff, that doesn’t matter.  The reason it broke is that you were playing so fucking hard, and that’s why the show was so good!”

Next on the list:  Deep Purple, 1996, Purpendicular tour.  T-Rev, Iron Tom Sharpe and I trekked to Toronto to catch the new lineup featuring Ian Gillan, Steve Morse, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, and of course Jon Lord.  Playing a set of personal favourites including “Fireball” (the opener) and “No One Came”, we all left exhausted and satisfied.  Opening act:  Wild T & the Spirit.  Incredible and indelibly scorched into my memory, Purple proved that age does not matter one lick.

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In 1997 I scratched Rush off my list.  This experience was commemorated in Record Store Tales Part 70:  Canada Day Weekend Rush.  Seeing Rush on the most patriotic weekend of the year was a perfect experience.  The played all of 2112 live, an experience not to be missed.  It was also my first time meeting such friends as Tyler (from Tyler and LeBrain fame), and rock god Dr. Dave Haslam.

The final concert on this list would have to be Helix, once again, opening for Alice Cooper in 2006.  The venue was the trusty old Center in the Square, and this time we were in the second row.  Alice Cooper was on his Dirty Diamonds tour, a killer record and a great live set.  Helix were in the midst of working on a new EP to be called Get Up, and they played the instantly catchy title track live.  This time, when Brian came down to the seats, I succeeded in shaking his hand.  He must have noticed the guy in the front who knew every word….

Honorable mentions:  Blue Rodeo and “Weird Al” Yankovic.  I’ve seen Blue Rodeo so many times that I could almost make a list of the best Blue Rodeo concerts I’ve ever seen.  As for Weird Al, what’s not to like?  He has a crack band that can play anything.

Conspicuous by their absence on this list:  Kiss.  This experience was recorded in Record Store Tales Part 8.  Not only did Iron Tom make us miss the first few songs, but it was a boring by-the-numbers setlist.  That would have been fine except for the after-concert shenanigans that didn’t see me getting home until 4 am the next day…with a 10 am opening shift at the Record Store.  Good times?  Not!

Of these shows, I really don’t know which was the best.  Maybe they were all the best!  What’s yours?

#402: Meeting Blue Rodeo

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#402: Meeting Blue Rodeo

FIVEOn June 14 1991, touring to support their third album Casino, Blue Rodeo came around to headline at the COE – Central Ontario Exhibition – in Kitchener.  The opening act was Strange Days featuring Shannon Lyon, a local singer-songwriter whose earlier tunes didn’t appeal to the older ladies in the crowd.  The younger folks dug Strange Days, but there was clearly another segment of the audience who thought they were too loud and raucious.

When Blue Rodeo took the stage, it was with the near-legendary Bob Wiseman on keyboards.  Wiseman departed Blue Rodeo about a year and a half later, so we were lucky to see this unique individual live in concert.  Also present were leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, bassist Bazil Donovan, and drummer  Mark French.  French would be gone soon after, too.  It was a very short-lived lineup:  one album only.

I had just graduated highschool, and we had four tickets to the show; a great way to kick off the last summer holidays before university.  My sister and I attended with my friend Bob and a buddy of his.  Blue Rodeo played a generous selection from their first three albums:  Outskirts, Diamond Mine, and Casino.  In addition Bob Wiseman was given the spotlight for a moment to pick up a guitar and sing a brand new solo song called “We Got Time”.

The big surprise of the night was when a few (probably loaded) guys in their mid-20’s decided to go stage diving at a Blue Rodeo show. The band were noticeably surprised themselves by the stage divers.  Not something you’re used to seeing at a country rock show where a percentage of the audience was over retirement age.


When Greg announced this song, both Bob and I asked, “What did he say? Is the song called ‘Piranha Poo’??”

After the big encores, the house lights went on.  We were all but ready to leave the COE, when Bob noticed Jim Cuddy and the rest of the band exiting through a side door.  “I think I just saw the guy from Blue Rodeo go through that door.  Let’s follow him!” he said.  There didn’t seem to be any reason not to, so we made our way out the door, down the hallway of that old hockey arena, and followed the band right into the dressing room!  I was a bit more nervous than my friends, but nobody tried to stop us or even talk to us.  My eyes went wide as I scanned the dressing room.  It was filled with food and drink, and fans!

We each made the rounds to ask the band to sign stuff for us.  The two we didn’t approach were Bob Wiseman and Mark French who appeared too busy so we didn’t bother them.  Bazil Donovan quietly smiled and signed our things.  Since I didn’t have much in hand, he signed a photo of my guitar that I kept in my wallet!  Greg Keelor signed my ticket stub.  While doing so, I expressed amazement at the stage diving!  “Yeah, it was fun!” said Greg, who probably hadn’t witnessed it too often in his career!  Jim Cuddy signed the other side of my ticket stub.  Bob had already chucked his ticket and had nothing to get signed, so he handed Jim Cuddy a $5 bill.  “Can you sign it, ‘To Bob, the best $5 I ever had?’ said Bob.  Jim chuckled and signed it as requested.  Unfortunately, Bob being the cheapskate that he is, spent the $5 bill later!  Somewhere out there in circulation was a $5 bill that said, “The best $5 I ever had, Jim Cuddy.”*

I already liked the band’s music, but I became a Blue Rodeo fan for life that night.  Not only are they a consistently great live act, but nice guys too.  I met Jim a few years ago at one of his solo concerts, and he still treats his fans like gold.  That’s the kind of band that has earned my undying support.

In 2012, Blue Rodeo came out with their box set, 1987-1993, containing their first five albums plus three discs of rarities.  Having re-bought the albums, I sent my originals over to Aaron! What I forgot was that I had stored my signed stuff with those CDs! Fortunately Aaron found the autographs inside, and sent them back pronto!  Thanks man.

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Greatest Hits vol. 1 (2001)

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there!

BLUE RODEO GREATEST HITS_0001BLUE RODEO – Greatest Hits vol. 1 (2001 Warner)

Blue Rodeo are not a “Greatest Hits” band. Indeed, before this album came out, Jim and Greg routinely used to say, “We’ll only do a greatest hits when we’re finished.” Well, record company pressure must have gotten to them (or they may have just outlasted their own expectations), and they released this typical hits compilation: 12 hits and 2 new songs, just like every other band’s hits compilation.

The problem with Blue Rodeo is that they are so much more than the sum of their hits. Sure, “Rose-Coloured Glasses” (track 2) is a hit single, but what about “Rebel” or “Heart Like Mine”? (This is the album version of “Rose-Coloured Glasses”, not the very rare single remix, only available on 7″ single back in 1986). There’s simply no room on a single disc hits album for the songs that define the Blue Rodeo sound. Blue Rodeo were and still are more about albums, the bigger picture.  Especially in the early days, each album was a different direction from the last.  Each of the first five (and arguably six) first Blue Rodeo studio albums stand as critically important pieces of work.

Having said that, you do get a generous slice of hits here. Fans know these songs already, so I won’t spend too much time talking about them. “Lost Together”, the full length version of “Diamond Mine”, “Bad Timing”, “Try”…these are all songs that saturated the radio in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Peppered along with them are tunes like “Trust Yourself” from Casino, a minor single that some might have forgotten. I was pleased that “Side of the Road” and “Dark Angel” were here, which represent Blue Rodeo’s less commercial side.

For those who love Jim’s ballads, some of his most notable are here.  For those who prefer Blue Rodeo’s radio country-rocking side, there is “Til I Am Myself Again”, “It Could Happen to You” and the classic “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”.  Greatest Hits vol. 1 is a fair slice of great tunes.  Certainly there are none to skip…just that there are plenty more where these came from.

Missing in action: any songs from The Days In Between, Blue Rodeo’s most recent album at the time. I guess that’s because The Days In Between just was the first underwhelming Blue Rodeo album. The US version of Greatest Hits subbed in Jim’s hit ballad “Bulletproof” from the later Palace Of Gold, instead of “It Could Happen To You” from Tremelo. (Palace Of Gold followed Greatest Hits, but not in the US where this was released afterwards.)

The two new tracks were a revelation. Blue Rodeo had started experimenting with a horn section, and the Greatest Hits tour featured these additional musicians on their back catalogue. The two new songs also feature the horns and strings.  This led into their next album, the aforementioned Palace of Gold, which utilized these instruments throughout.  A re-recording of “After The Rain” benefits greatly from their soulful sounds (not to mention extended solos and jamming). The Bee Gees cover “To Love Somebody” (lead vocal by Greg) has ended up being one of the best covers Blue Rodeo has done to date, live or otherwise. The new sound with horns would be fully realized on Palace Of Gold, but fear not if you don’t like this sound: they soon reverted to the classic configuration of the band.

My best advice is, if you want to really check out some Blue Rodeo, pick up those early albums one by one when you find them cheap (it’s not hard to do). If “Try” is your favourite song, pick up Outskirts, and then explore the rest of the gems on that classic record. Likewise if “Lost Together” is the only song you know, pick up that album and be surprised by the deep album cuts that you would have missed otherwise. And most of all, see the band live.

3.5/5 stars