The Halifax Jazz Festival takes place over five days in July. So while it risked being a bit on-the-nose, Blue Rodeo bookending their headlining show Friday night (July 14) with favourites from 1993's beloved record Five Days in July felt like a perfect fit.
"So nice to finally be here in the summer!" shouted Jim Cuddy, noting the band typically ends up in Halifax in less hospitable seasons. (Their most recent visit was this past February.)
The show opened with "Five Days in May" and "Cynthia," the songs' softer sides giving way partway through to impressive solos from band members Mike Boguski (keyboards) and Colin Cripps (lead guitar). And the main set closed with classic "Hasn't Hit Me Yet," which the sizable audience knew so well that Cuddy and Greg Keelor could step away from the microphones and let the crowd handle the first verse and chorus all on their own without missing a word.
"Blue Rodeo just turned us into 'wooo!' girls!" I overheard one concertgoer saying early in the set. And it's true: the instant familiarity of the band's best material and the sense of comfort in their sound — even at its most ragged — makes theirs a show easy to cheer for, and even easier to sit back and soak in.
Admittedly, a festival crowd probably wasn't the ideal setting for some of the set's softer sides: if a slow song wasn't an obvious hit (for example, Lost Together ballad "Is It You," one of many examples of Keelor's stirring vocal performances), it was drowned out in cacophony of buds catching up over beers. But with a bit of work, the band found moments of silence to fill. A fantastic, slow-building "Disappear" in particular, seemed to hush the crowd enough for the band to ably roll back in with a forceful, pointed outro.
Blue Rodeo long ago reached that impressive plateau of having too many hits and favourites to fill a set, but are still wise enough to give the audience plenty of them regardless. Their selection of more recent material alongside those hit was smart, biasing upbeat material like 1000 Arms' "I Can't Hide This Anymore" and The Things We Left Behind's "Candice." (Though, well performed as it was, Arms' "Superstar" remains a bit of a clunker.)
But the moments the audience almost certainly went home remembering (if they didn't "catch up" too much, that is) will be the sing-alongs: great performances of iconic songs like "What Am I Doing Here," "Try" and a transcendent "Lost Together." On the last of these, which ended the night, the band invited opener Ron Sexsmith and his band along with Haligonians Rose Cousins, Matt Mays and Adam Baldwin on-stage to sing along. Baldwin, Sexsmith and Mays each took a verse, and when the chorus hit it felt like everyone on the harbourfront was part of the choir.
Even if you've heard it all so many times before, the song — one of the best to ever come out of this country — has rarely sounded better.
Pick up Five Days in July on vinyl via Umusic.