A Bruce Cockburn appearance in Cranbrook is an event. Almost 600 people agreed with that sentiment, packing the Key City Theatre to take in the legendary singer-songwriter and pioneering guitarist and his band on Thursday, August 8.
Cockburn is a gentle, amiable presence, but he had a lot to say on the state of the world and the human soul, and he said it through the powerful poetry of his setlist — spanning the decades of his vast songbook. Songs from 40 years seemed as relevant as the selections from his most recent album Bone on Bone.
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For the most part, he eschewed the crowd pleasing hits that got him so much radio play in past years, though Lovers In A Dangerous Time and Tokyo did open the show, and Peggy’s Kitchen Wall and Wondering Where The Lions Are appeared later in the set. But Cockburn and the band concentrated instead on themes of movement and flight (Silver Wheels, Night Train, Mon Chemin); injustice, values and values gone wrong (Call it Democracy, Stolen Land, Cafe Society), and the search for redemption (Jesus Train, Soul Of A Man).
When You Give It Away and Berlin Tonight comprised “the travelogue portion of the evening,” Cockburn joked, and Three Al Purdys — Cockburn’s tribute to the late Canadian poet — featured a strong spoken word element.
Cockburn’s fiery musicianship was enhanced by the bass playing of John Dymand, the jazzy drumming of Gary Craig, and the multi-instrumentalism of Cockburn’s nephew John Aaron Cockburn on violin, accordion and guitar. The band used electronics to great effect on several songs, giving a shimmering, ethereal sheen to the overall sound.
After an intermission, Cockburn and the band showcased a number (The Bells of Gethsemane) from the upcoming instrumental album Crowing Ignites — heavy on chimes, cymbals, Tibetan singing bowls and percussion underneath Cockburn’s melodic guitar.
The short encore was Soul Of A Man (“Won’t somebody tell me/Answer if you can … / …Tell me what is the soul of a man?), leaving the audience with their heads full of philosophy, poetry and intense music.
Afterwards, Cockburn graciously repaired to the Key City Theatre lobby where an autograph line had formed. A fitting end for his visit to a city full of old friends.