Bruce Cockburn at the Fremont Theater

ByDavid M. Conte

Jun 6, 2022

Performers: Bruce Cockburn – vocals, guitar, dulcimer, percussion

Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn did not disappoint in San Luis Obispo stoppage of his 50 postponed by COVIDe Anniversary tour. Arriving on stage to a standing ovation from avid fans, the 77-year-old delivered an impeccable two-hour show that included favorites from his more than 25 studio albums, as well as songs from his forthcoming album, some of which were published online. during confinement.

The evening featured ethereal guitar work, traditional folk sounds, and elements of rock and blues, opening with 2019’s “Sweetness and Light,” a sweet and captivating instrumental that showcased the graceful, unassuming personality of Cockburn. Moving on to his iconic poetic stories of deep unconditional love and humanitarianism, he continued with “When You Give It Away” – with poetic lyrics such as “time flies, but learning goes slow” – and “ Tropic Moon”, inspired by the Salvadoran guerrilla movement of the 1980s, underlined by the phrase “it should be a cry of love, but it is a cry of fear”.

Bluesy roots jam “Café Society” poke fun at the ritual morning cup of coffee, while “Pacing The Cage” offered a sweet lullaby feel with incredible loving energy. A veritable showman, Cockburn added wind chimes (hitting them as he strummed the guitar and sang) on ​​”States I’m In”, and delivered gorgeous vocals on “Last Night of the World” with the hook “If it was the last night in the world, what would I do? What would I do different? – unless it was champagne with you.

According to Cockburn, “Songs only really come alive when you play them for people, so the recording studio is kind of a compromise in that regard. I like being in the studio. It’s funny. It’s like putting together a puzzle or something, but it’s a very different experience than performing a song in front of a group of people. This is when the songs really take on a life of their own.

After more than an hour, Cockburn took a short intermission, continuing with Eastern-influenced “Stolen Land,” his lament for the theft of land and racism suffered by First Nations people, dramatized by falsetto voices at unison with the guitar lines of the choir. He remained unfazed when someone shouted that the crowd in the room was on stolen land, only pausing to point out briefly, wryly, that it was a fact across the country, except of the city of Manhattan, which was “bought”. “In The Falling Dark” brought heavy tones that resolved with soft, melodic lines like “smoke on the breeze, stinging eyes.” Cockburn, like fellow Canadian musician-songwriters Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen – and Bob Dylan, born just across the border – is a poet.

In his second set, Cockburn introduced a new song, “Into The Now” (written while on Maui in July 2001), which includes the lyrics, “love flows like honey from God”, and played some dulcimer for “Arrows of Light,” before engaging the crowd in a rousing call-and-response rendition of “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” sparking a beautiful community moment. The incredible falsetto and breath control of Cockburn reminded audiences of the strength and power of love in all circumstances with “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”, and its closing song, “If A Tree Falls”, a hymn about human destruction of the natural environment. , delivered with breathtaking guitar work and vocals, was absolutely breathtaking.

Clearly in his element on stage, Cockburn returned for a three-song encore, donning his dobro and adding more wind chimes and fabulous echoplex pedal work with eloquent delays on “The End of All Rivers.” He followed the moving instrumental soundscape with his old-school blues track, “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long.”

Focusing on writing and recording during lockdown has spawned ten new songs, four of which were released on YouTube in the past year to share with fans. Cockburn performed two tracks from the “Four New Songs” collection, including “Orders” – with its haunting guitar chorus and magnetic, soothing narration that held the crowd captive – and “Us All”, the latter closing the encore of the evening with a patient, masterful delivery. “I didn’t want to wait,” Cockburn said, “because a couple of these songs seem relevant to the current situation, so I wanted to get them out into the world before I could go in and do a whole album.”

Throughout the evening, Cockburn (pronounced co-burn) engaged the audience with dry comedic wit between pure and beautiful guitar playing, layered over his indelible observations and experience of the world. Cockburn is committed to the idea of ​​creating a kind of common space through the magic of music, rather than perpetuating divisive narratives of conviction. The truth of his lyrics are poignant and meaningful, while his grounded, easy presence and the performance itself create a safe and healing space. Getting back on the road is what matters to him. “Doing something that we haven’t been able to do for so long, that feeling of joyful relief, is characteristic of all shows,” he says.

While many musicians have paid tribute to his brilliant songwriting, including The Barenaked Ladies, Judy Collins, Jimmy Buffett, The Jerry Garcia Band and Steve Bell, Cockburn says a few renditions of his music stand out. The first is that of Jimmy Buffet. “[He] really went out of their way to make them the way they were meant to be,” says Cockburn. The second is that of Michael Occhipinti, a jazz guitarist from Toronto, who took the time to deconstruct Cockburn’s writing and rework it into a jazz album. “It’s a beautiful record,” says Cockburn.

Asked about his thoughts on the current state of music, Cockburn shared that he thinks we’re going to discover some new sounds. “Once in a while, when you reach that point where the basic sound of pop music becomes the basic sound of commercials, it’s time for something new to happen and the window is down for about five minutes. Some really cool things will pop up and then the windows will start to close again as they get refined and they figure out how to wrap them up.

Cockburn’s new album is expected in early 2023.

Photo credit: Jackson Beenham