Blue Rodeo’s frontman Jim Cuddy put out his first solo album, Constellation, in seven years, a lengthy break that actually saw him put out three records with his main band. The deeply personal and lovelorn album shows that Cuddy is still a master of his craft that has captured the hearts of Canadians for over three decades. The set started out with Cuddy and his band roaring through half of Constellation for the sold out crowd. Personal highlights include the fast and fun bluegrass tinged Where You Gonna Run and the softer alternative rock Lonely When You Leave.
Before launching into the title track from the record, Cuddy told the crowd the story of how he was inspired by a friend who was dying of cancer and during a drunken night at the cottage Jim and his other friends tried to find a constellation to name after their friend to little avail. Knowing the sad story behind the track and the honesty and reverence the band performed it with was a touching moment and an early highlight of the beautiful night.
Cuddy admiring the great Massey Hall from up on stage mused about how hard it will be to imagine seeing the building close down. The 125 year old venue will close in June for two years while massive renovations are conducted that include adding two smaller venues inside the theatre for additional shows. Cuddy claimed how it is always an honour and a thrill to play in the building that is Canada’s most historic live music venue. He then launched into Cold Cold Wind that had two slinky solos back to back with Anne Lindsay on violin and Steve O’Connor on piano on what was just a preview of what was to come later on.
Despite being in the industry since the late 80’s with a multitude of hit records and international tours under his belt seeing the pure joy on Cuddy’s face when he would lean into Colin Cripps (who along with bassist Bazil Donovan all play in Blue Rodeo too) playing guitar showed that it never gets old for him.
After switching the setlist up and playing a mix of older material, covers and Blue Rodeo songs the show picked up steam a bit. The night was filled with guests such as country rock singer Barney Bentall who came out to sing on the first of several Blue Rodeo songs on the night, Bad Timing from the bands 1993 album Five Days in July. Cuddy finally traded out his acoustic guitar for an electric one on The Light That Guides You Home, the title track from his 2006 solo album.
Cuddy joked about the best part of touring when you are old is you can do whatever you like and no one can stop you, so the most rebellious thing he could do was bring his two musician sons on tour to help expose them to a wider audience. He brought out “Son number two” Sam Polley who plays guitar and sings in his group Sam Polley and The Old Tomorrows. Instead of just joining his father to sing Cuddy or Blue Rodeo songs, he sung lead on a few of his own songs with his dad backing him up. Polley songs performed included Surrender and Rude Girl, who is a spitting image of his dad’s performance style. Cuddy later joked how his son does indeed perform like himself but makes it look cooler and Polley cracked back that he would teach his dad some new moves making the audience roar with laughter.
Eventually “Son number one” Devin Cuddy came out to play as well, as he sat behind a keyboard to play his own song Radio and lead the band in a cover of Jack Marks song Maggie’s Hardware Store. While we can’t see if Devin looks the same as Jim when playing guitar he looks more like his father with a mop of hair a top his head that makes him look like Jim forty years younger.
For the Blue Rodeo song 5 Days in May an epic violin solo by Lindsay blew the crowd away. She furiously played her instrument so intensely that the horsehairs were flying off her bow. After the several minute performance the crowd all got on their feet to applaud and cheer her on for the show they were given. The band left the stage for Cuddy to perform Pull Me Through alone on the piano. The set ended with two more Blue Rodeo songs Til I Am Myself Again and It Could Happen To You, which Cuddy asked the crowd the stand on their feet and dance for. The front of the stage was instantly bombarded and the atmosphere was livened up.
The encore continued the energy with Blue Rodeo’s most famous song Try from their 1987 debut album Outskirts, which put the band on the map. Cuddy’s two sons came back out to play the Luke Doucet song One Too Many, that Cuddy warned the crowd beforehand by saying “the boys are going to come out and sing a song but I warn you, it contains mature language right off the fucking top” to big laughs.
The lengthy set ended with all the band members and guests standing in front of the microphones, as they unplugged their gear and sung Wash Me Down from Cuddy’s 2011 solo album Skyscraper Soul. The crowd sung along to the chorus in a moment that connected everyone both on and off stage. Bringing his family on tour is a smart move that allows Jim Cuddy to show the lineage and influence he has on Canadian music and with a stellar album behind him it made the show truly special.