By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette — It was hard to tell which side of the border you were on Tuesday night when 54-40 and Blue Rodeo graced the Artpark stage. The red Canadian Maple Leaf was prominently displayed throughout the venue as two of Canada’s finest bands played spectacular sets.
54-40 had the often-unenviable task of warming things up, but they rose to the occasion during their abbreviated but powerful hour-long set of their best-known classics including “I Go Blind” and “Casual Viewin. ’ ”
By 8 p.m., Blue Rodeo took over, casually strolling onstage and breaking into “What Am I Doing Here,” after Jim Cuddy said, “I am glad it’s not raining this year, you guys were as tough as nails last year.” The lack of rainfall this year was not the only difference. For their part, Blue Rodeo seemed to have upped the ante, they made last year’s performance look amateurish by comparison, and that show last year was darned good.
It’s hard to tell if it was the emotion of the evening, it being Canada Day, or the fact that 54-40 played a stellar opening set, but whatever the case, the set was nothing short of magical.
Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s chemistry was wonderful. The pair connected vocally all evening and they were all smiles, as if they were long lost friends enjoying a cold beer together and reminiscing about the good old days.
The rest of the band responded in kind, and they sounded tight and powerful, all seeming to know when it was time to pick up the tempo or lay back and quietly fill the spaces. In short, they all seemed like they were having a great time.
There were many musical highlights, the first was a blazing version of their early hit ‘’Try” which included an extended jam that whipped the crowd into an early frenzy. A few songs later the band played a wonderful version of one of last year’s highlights, ‘’After the Rain,’’ which may not have had the same sentimentality this year, but it did not take away from the song’s sheer beauty.
The regular set ended with the crowd taking the first verse of ‘’Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,’’ before the band kicked in. They returned to the stage for two encores, “Lost Together” and “Til I’m Myself Again.“ Both versions were excellent nightcaps to a fantastic performance.
Right after the last notes of the final song were barely ringing, the rain came slowly falling down, and in the distance, there was a something that sounded like thunder. It wasn’t thunder, it was a fireworks display taking place across the border. A reminder that the two nations share birthdays that are in close proximity to each other.
And while no one would blame either Blue Rodeo or 54-40 for not spending the day in their native land, Artpark provided a home away from home for the many Canadians in attendance, the bands reminded us that one of Canada’s most important exports is music.Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.