Submitted by David Byrne:
For life-long Cockburn fans every chance to see Bruce live is a special occasion. Last night’s show, however, transcended the expected extraordinary experience into the realm of sacred. This term at Wycliffe College, an affiliate of the Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, Brian Walsh has been guiding a group of students through the music of Bruce Cockburn in a course called Music, Prophecy and Culture. While the course is set up to feature a mix of Cockburn’s and U2’s music, the latter being that which drew most students initially, we as a group have had the unique experience familiar to most of Cockburn’s listeners of having our spirits awakened and nurtured by his words.
Over the course of the term we have explored themes and imagery in Cockburn’s music such as darkness, light, spiritual and planetary brokenness, disorientation and reorientation, joy, hope, desolation and a myriad of other issues and challenges that he weaves into the lyrics and instrumentation of his music. Our conversations, much like Cockburn’s music has been and continues to be, find grounding in explicitly Christian language.
When our professor provided us with the opportunity to go see Bruce live in Buffalo as a class as opposed to a lecture on Tuesday, March 20th we were more than happy to comply. We piled into cars, drove across the boarder and met up in Buffalo to share a meal together. Once finished we piled into the Tralf Music Hall to hear Bruce live, most of us for the first time. Bruce, alone on stage, treated the audience to two hours which were filled with rich guitar work, endearing monologue and a familiar message of hope and urgency that is present in the breadth of this nomadic visionary’s body of work. Bruce combined familiar songs such as Lovers In A Dangerous Time and Dust And Diesel with newer tracks such as This Is Baghdad and Mystery to paint for his audience a call to service in the world, as desolate as it may seem. Bruce’s music is starkly honest in that it awakens within the listener a social and spiritual awareness of the dire condition that we face as humanity. But in the face of desolation Bruce reminds us, that the world is full of mystery and that hope’s blood must pulse through our veins if we are to realize the mission set before us. In this Bruce stands in the tradition of biblical prophets.
After the show, through some leg work by Brian Walsh, we were able to share a few tender moments with Bruce. He was gracious and accommodating. When asked whether we were still ‘in the falling dark’ Bruce acknowledged that the state that we’re in is worsening. Harkened back to his comments moments prior I recalled that Bruce, who closed the show with the last cut from his new album, To Fit In My Heart, said that he put that song in there for us – to remind us of the power of God and those who do God’s work. Even in the face of such overwhelming despair Bruce’s final message to us, and to his entire audience, was one of hope. I know I speak on behalf of my classmates when I say thank you to Bruce. Thank you for kindling the urgent fires of hope in the face of our cultural destitution. May such hope ebb and flow within our hearts?
...and by Bruce Soderholm:
What Can Bruce Do For You?
It’s Tuesday night and the first evening of Spring. The club is cloaked – curtains, wall, stage – in its requisite black and fills quickly with patrons eager to hear Bruce Cockburn deliver as only he can. The Tralf, in the heart of Buffalo’s theatre district, is roomy enough to handle four to five hundred people; tonight – standing room only. I’ve shuffled off to this locale to hear him perform solo with a carload of friends who are Cockburn aficionados. My ticket stub says “All Ages Show” and as I look around, it’s bang on. It reminds me that good songwriting and artistic integrity make that possible. To reinforce the thought, in line before entering, a woman tells me that the concert will be a family event. Ever since her teenage son heard Bruce use an expletive in If I Had A Rocket Launcher, he figured he must be okay.
Bruce emerges through a curtain and makes his way to the microphone. There are three gleaming guitars on stage and he picks up one of them and after a quick greeting launches into Last Night Of The World. The audience is there immediately and I’m thinking, You’re right. What would I do that was different? Unless it was to have my wife here, sipping champagne and listening to you.
Beneath his close-cropped white hair, his trademark spectacles glint gold as the spartan stage lighting reveals a clean shaven face and traces of a deep smile. After an enthusiastic response to the first song he tells us how when he was young he just missed a summer job opportunity running guns to Cuba with an enterprising friend. This is a Bruce more loquacious than I’ve heard for some time. As he strikes up See You Tomorrow I’m thinking that he looks like a UPS delivery guy. And why not? He’s an original outside-the-box thinker who’s constantly on the road, and the package he brings is always timely. What can Brown do for you? What can Bruce do for you?
What Bruce does
is to deliver a show that provides a good number of classics for his long
term fans, but also highlights material from his
last disk. After the title track Life
Short, Call Now he scales the falsetto
heights of Beautiful
Creatures. All night Bruce’s
voice sounds strong, but on this it cracks somewhat. No matter.
gathers momentum. He segues seamlessly between classics and newer material.
As always, I’m shaking my head in wonder at the sound he delivers with his guitars. The driving rhythm of the slapping thumb, the intricate chord work, the harmonics – they cascade to fill the air. Heads are nodding everywhere around me; the audience is fully engaged. This is a great room to see Bruce. The synergy feeds back and forth between audience and stage. It’s never more palpable than when he soulfully delivers This Is Baghdad to this predominantly American audience. There’s a tangible response to the line “We packed all the ordnance but the thing we forgot / Was a plan in case it didn’t turn out quite like we thought” and it seems as if the weight of recent public opinion is finally given voice in this lyric. The theme carries through with the follow-up Tell The Universe and Iraq lingers with sobriety in the audience’s consciousness as Bruce describes it as the place “where it’s 9/11 every day”.
While Bruce will always be associated with his outspoken political views and his eco-friendly stance (the house is brought down with an especially vigorous If A Tree Falls), on this night he also delivers what can only be described as transcendent moments. Whether it’s in the ethereal quality of the echoing guitar work in End Of All Rivers, the visceral ecstasy of Wondering Where The Lions Are or the redolent “incense” of Dust And Diesel, I catch glimpses of something that is other-worldly. The silver water flask on his sound system strikes a cross in profile and the mood is echoed in his set-ending rendition of Mystery.
Bruce trundles off stage, slightly stoop-shouldered, to a pleasing
cacophony of whoops, whistles
and applause, his humility is apparent. He is genuinely touched
by the devotion of this crowd.
Bruce does not disappoint with his final two packages as his encores include: the bluesy instrumental King Kong Goes To Tallahassee; a cryptically referenced rendition of Peggy's Kitchen Wall; the consummate poetry of Pacing The Cage; and a wind-down finale in To Fit In My Heart. Checking my watch, I see the evening has raced by, but it only ever felt like the eternal present. More transcendence. Time to ship out – Bruce, in brown, has delivered.