Montreal -- Musique Plus doesn't look like much. Located in the middle of Montreal's red light district, the tiny TV studio has desks bordering the broadcast areas and sidewalk-level windows that open to the gaze of passing pedestrians. But to millions of French Canadian music fans, Musique Plus is as important as MTV -- which is why the members of Blue Rodeo were on hand, gearing up for an on-air performance several months ago.
Considering that Blue Rodeo (which plays Max's on Broadway tonight) is one of Canada's most popular bands, having been named Group of the Year three times running, this mini-concert was hardly surprising. And the band was more than happy to get some additional exposure for a few songs from "Casino," its third and latest album.
Still, it's hard for an American visitor to imagine Blue Rodeo getting the same sort of exposure in the United States. It may be the most dependable concert draw in the Great White North, but the band is just a club act once it crosses the border. Isn't that disparity hard to swallow?
"Not really," answered guitarist Jim Cuddy. "I don't think we feel disadvantaged, because we're so much further than we ever thought we'd be. When we started, we really anticipated just being a local bar band."
Which is all Blue Rodeo was when it debuted in 1985. Greg Keelor, the band's other guitarist, likened the group's philosophy to that of English pub rock bands like Brinsley Schwartz, "where you just played every weekend, and did a whole pile of things in your own style."
Nobody worried about getting a record deal then. "The only Canadian bands that got signed were heavy metal bands, and they were meant to be big rock acts, arena acts," said Keelor. "Alternative music acts just didn't get signed."
Consequently, the Toronto club scene Blue Rodeo grew up in was "born on the idea that nobody's going to get record contracts," said Keelor. "And that's a great relief to a scene. [Bands] can do whatever they want, and if there are record company people in the audience, it really doesn't make any difference."
Ironically, that no-pressure scene wound up producing some of Canada's best-known bands, including the Jeff Healey Band and Cowboy Junkies. Even so, much of the old attitude remains. "It's nice to feel comfortable with being popular in Canada," said Cuddy. "And I suppose that we have enough popularity in Canada that we don't have to be popular somewhere else. But it's not something we can do anything about. All we can do is play, and just be what we are."