By Lindsay Briscoe
Jim Cuddy has been playing for crowds for such a long time now he can read them like a book.
Within a few minutes on stage he can tell whether the crowd is willing to participate and clown around with him, or if they’re self-conscious and reserved and just want to sit back and listen.
On Oct. 1, when he and his band played for a full-house at the Red Lake District High School gym, he says he changed up his set just to see what would happen. In a setting like that, he says, you want something that feels spontaneous – not rehearsed. A lot of what he and his band did on stage that night was spurred by the audience’s positive energy.
The crowd wasn’t shy either. One audience member shouted out his love of Cuddy early in the first set while others sang along – especially to Blue Rodeo classics like “Try” and “It Could Happen to You.” The room erupted with applause after his band mate Colin Cripps’ quietly confident guitar solos and Anne Lindsay’s rock-star violin playing (her bow looked like it had a bad case of bed head after a couple of her solos).
It’s hard to resist them, though. The trio has a remarkable chemistry on stage that Cuddy says comes not only from having known each other for decades, but also from their respect of each other’s talent.
‘It’s easy to relate to people who play like that,” says Cuddy. “They are extraordinary players and they never ever give less than everything every night. I push them because it’s fun to feel like the captain but I don’t need to. Those two make it very easy.”
Apart from a tasteful sprinkling of Blue Rodeo hits, Cuddy’s performance was largely a mix of songs from his three solo albums All in Time, (1998) The Light that Guides you Home, (2006) and Skyscraper Soul (2011). The entire room fell silent for “Pull me through,” a bittersweet piano song inspired by Cuddy’s uncle who lost his wife and best friend after more than 60 years of marriage and “Skyscraper Soul,” a conflicted, soul-bearing tribute to his city of Toronto.
“You gotta understand. Toronto is misunderstood because people come to it and they don’t have the time to get to know it and thus to love it,” he says. “Toronto is not one of those cities that exhibits itself on first look. Don’t get me wrong. Toronto doesn’t’ have an inferiority complex. It has a grotesque superiority complex. We also recognize that we are the most criticized city in the country. That’s really remarkable.”
Cuddy says he finds inspiration in many different places – certainly well beyond his own experiences and backyard. For example, “Married Again” was inspired by a couple he read about who had gone to Las Vegas to sign their divorce papers, had a bit too much to drink and wound up re-marrying the same night.
“In a way it’s a little window into human behaviour which is really what songs are about,” he says. “It’s part reflection of me, part reflection of the people I know and part just what I observe.”
During intermission and after the show, an army of Cuddy fans – both old and new – flooded the area surrounding the merchandise table to purchase t-shirts and CDs and to gush about the show. Cuddy himself welcomed the crowd after the performance to pose for photos and sign autographs.
A lot of his fans had a sentimental story or memory for him – how his performance at one festival or another had touched them or how their children had grown up listening to his music. He was generous with the hugs and handshakes and said that he would love to come back down the road.
Cuddy will be working with Blue Rodeo on their 25th anniversary box set (a compilation of tracks from the first five records) and the band’s anniversary tour this winter. Blue Rodeo is also planning to begin recording their thirteenth studio album some time in 2013.