The Southam Hall theatre at Ottawa's National Arts Centre provided the perfect place for Bruce Cockburn to treat fans to classics from the past as well as showcase some of his latest work. While the audience sat in darkness, Cockburn emerged on stage, clad in a trademark black trench coat, in front of a stripped down set. He took his place, centre stage underneath soft red, blue and orange hues, suggesting listeners would be in for a warm and intimate evening.
Cockburn's opening number proved that the Ottawa native didn't need time to warm up. With a quiet nod and hello to the crowd, Cockburn slipped easily into "Open," a casual and upbeat song that got the crowd swaying in their seats, from 2003's You've Never Seen Everything.
From there, Cockburn launched into the popular "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," with the first notes drawing enthusiastic claps and cheers from the audience. He continued to engage and entertain by singing another famous classic and inviting the crowd to join him. "How do you feel about singing?" he asked the crowd, in a speaking voice that's surprisingly, gentle compared to the gruff, strong, folksy vocals that fans are used to. Listeners happily complied, slapping their knees and repeating back the chorus to 1979's hit "Wondering Where the Lions Are."
Opening with a few-well known classics, Cockburn proved he was in his element. Supported only by a drummer and a keyboardist who occasionally sang backup, Cockburn's insightful lyrics about life and love came across clearly and through that unique voice that is strong, crisp and raspy all at the same time. With a stripped down band, he was able to showcase his own incredible guitar skills, providing a rich but not overpowering combined sound.
Cockburn's effortless ease on stage and his laidback style lured listeners into a relaxed and appreciative state to enjoy the rest of the set. Before intermission, the singer-songwriter and guitarist played a few songs from his 29th album, Life Short Call Now that came out in July, 2006. On instrumentals like "Jerusalem Poker" the spotlight shifted from Cockburn's vocals and lyrical poetics to his guitar skills, scoring points with fans and displaying a range of jazz, blues, rock and folk. Other songs from the new album showed Cockburn's variety with the haunting and dissonant "Beautiful Creatures" and the easy going and catchy folk-rock of "Different When it Comes to You."
Cockburn picked up the energy after a short break changing the pace and performing the personal and passionate songs that reflect his political and social activism. He began with "Dust and Diesel" from 1984's Stealing Fire, the audience nodding along feelingly as he revealed it was a song about the "Third World up close."
Cockburn continued with his musical statements by singing a track from the new album. He simply stated that the next song represented "a similar sort of journeyÖdifferent time, different place." The evocative and simple melody of "This is Baghdad" combined with lyrics like "Everything's broken in the birthplace of law as Generation Two tries on his tragic flaw" confirmed Cockburn's political message is still alive in his music. The 61-year-old's most harsh criticism came in the form of "Tell the Universe," a message to current world leaders waging war.
Cockburn rounded out the show with more songs from his current album and some classics, causing a wave of excitement with the infamous "If a Tree Falls." Cockburn closed the show with "Mystery." Another from his latest album, the song seemed to be a return to his classic folk roots and its gentle melody and hopeful message, "Come all you stumblers who believe love rules stand up and let it shine" resonated with the crowd.
Cockburn brought the packed house to its feet and returned for two encores, bringing fire once again to his performance with the emotionally charged "Rocket Launcher." He rolled into "Night Train" before being called out a second time to play the simply moving folk classic "All the Diamonds" from 1974's Salt, Sun And Time. Cockburn ended with "To Fit in my Heart" from his 2006 release. The closing number slowed down the show and left fans on a positive note focusing on one of Cockburn's greatest topicsólove.
Writer: Meghan Wubs