Concert review: City and Colour at Canadian Tire Centre

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Concert review

City and Colour with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and Ruby Waters

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Canadian Tire Centre

Reviewed Feb. 23 

City and Colour kicked off a new year of concerts at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday with a sweet-sounding, muscular show that was enhanced by the addition of two top-notch openers: Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff and his band, the Night Sweats, and Canadian newcomer Ruby Waters. 

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The generous triple bill held the promise of extra bang for the concert buck during an unusually busy stretch of shows in the nation’s capital. Also in town at other venues this week were Strumbellas, Charlotte Cardin, Shawn Desman and Brett Kissel, with the Trews, Night Lovell and Aaron Pritchett touching down in the coming days. 

Having been on the road since the beginning of the month, by the time the three bands got to Ottawa, everyone was in peak form, cranking out their sets without holding back. The American musicians in the entourage also got to see a vast swath of wintry Canadian landscape, thanks to their tour guides in C & C. 

For Dallas Green, the chief creative force and namesake of City and Colour (get it? Dallas = City, and Green = Colour), the tour celebrates his seventh album, The Love Still Held Me Near, written to process his grief after the tragic loss of a close friend. It was released last year. 

City and Colour, of course, started out in 2005 as a solo side project for Green, who’s also a member of the hardcore band Alexisonfire. The melodic vulnerability demonstrated in Green’s introspective songwriting quickly catapulted C & C to mainstream success and attracted throngs of people (primarily women) who might not have braved the mosh-pit energy of an Alexis show. 

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On Friday, with his lustrous, salt-and-pepper beard, wide-brimmed hat and an oversize sweater covering his tattoos, Green had the look of a friendly uncle as he greeted the crowd with a statement rarely heard in a live rock n’ roll show. 

“Ottawa. Let’s get emotional,” he declared, earning a cheer from an audience estimated at nearly 10,000, a number that pretty much filled the arena’s mid-size show configuration. 

Backed by a terrific band that lent an undeniable swagger to the heartfelt songs and provided a gritty contrast to his almost-falsetto vocals, Green threw himself into a cathartic performance that seamlessly blended the newer songs, including Meant to Be, Bow Down to Me, The Love Still Held Me Near and more, with plenty of old favourites. A pedal steel added the poignant twang of country music, while the array of guitars attained a Crazy Horse-like peak at times. 

One highlight was the reverent atmosphere created during We Found Each Other, despite the fact that Green felt he had to admonish the audience when they didn’t respond with enough enthusiasm to its message of kindness. 

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“We’re all here together,” he said in his intro, “so I ask you for the next few minutes to hold a bit of kindness in your heart for the stranger standing next to you …. If you can’t get down with that, that’s completely fine, there are illuminated signs at the back of the building that show you where to go find another group of people.” 

A few older folks were spotted leaving the premises early in Green’s set, but it was more likely because they were fully satisfied after having seen the openers earlier in the evening (and wanted to beat the traffic). The robust-voiced and fleet-footed Rateliff and his band, fuelled by a killer horn section, were on fire during a set that embraced soul, funk, gospel and rock, reaching an emotional peak with their foot-stomping breakthrough hit, S.O.B. 

Those who arrived in time to catch Ontario singer-songwriter Ruby Waters launch the proceedings were impressed, too. Backed by a tight band, she showed off her formidable, raspy voice and powerful songs, proving herself worthy of following a path trodden by the likes of fellow Canadians Kathleen Edwards and Terra Lightfoot. 

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