Blue Rodeo

By Bob Bahr

Does the Clinton administration know about this?

Blue Rodeo looked all the world like an alternative power source at their December 9 show at Tewligans Tavern. The music they were producing was straight-ahead rock 'n' roll with a rural feel. But what made Blue Rodeo remarkable -- and they were remarkable -- was the palpable energy created during their extended set.

It seems that better than 80% of the bands that take the stage are a mere collection of guys that meet their cues. The songs bind them together. Blue Rodeo is of the 20% with that elusive quality called "chemistry" that makes rock 'n' roll live and breathe. Individual solos succeeded because the whole band set them up, goaded them along, or had the sense and respect to let them roll on their own. And what a treat it was to hear soloists with something to say.

The rhythm section -- Bazil Donovan on bass, Glenn Milchem on drums and the talented Bob Wiseman on keys -- were tight, hot and alive. Milchem is a drummer capable of playing distinct melodies on his set, and Donovan managed to make even simple country bass lines interesting and invigorating. Wiseman came off like a wizard when his keyboard was set to emulate a Hammond B-3 organ, and he otherwise ran down lines with gratifying fluidity and creativity. Tasty work from an added pedal steel guitar gave the backbone another dimension. How can a band go wrong with this cultivated fire beneath it?

Frontmen Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor didn't let the other guys down, delivering guitar work with textural variety and considerable taste. Vocally, Cuddy and Keelor offer two different approaches: Cuddy has a traditionally soaring rock tenor, while Keelor plays the dark side with a slightly nasal, lower range sneer in the fine tradition of Dylan via Tom Petty.

Lyrically, Blue Rodeo seemed to hedge their bets a little bit; the words strove for the beauty that the music easily achieved. They fit, but the sentiments were forgettable. But keep in mind that many bands have gone much further with much less.

The Tewligans show was a powerful statement of engaging, country-tinged alternative rock within a retro, throwback context. A twang-drenched ballad would follow "Where Are You Now," with its '70s rock familiarity. A country pop tune with all the catchiness and simplicity of the Cars would melt into "Lost Together," an epic-like song of tempered hope. And because it was perfectly mixed, Blue Rodeo's show was good to the last note