Submitted by Randy VanDalsen.
The band is tight, the sound is superb, the mix is perfect. Not too loud, about the level I’ve heard at a cool jazz nightclub. Tonight, it’s live with the Cockburn Jazz Quartet.
After the cheers fade out, Bruce chuckles that his new CD is You’ve Never Seen Everything, not You’ve Never Seen Anything, as often reported. Apparently, he says, the media doesn’t know the difference between everything and anything. “They’re kinda like Ronald Reagan, who once said, ‘you see one tree, you’ve seen them all.’” Waves of laughter.
Bruce asks if any one has seen a very funny new film (sorry, I didn’t catch the title), about the reforming of a Canadian punk band and their plans to open with a tour of western Canada. The band watched it last night, and had a great time. But he asks us not to think that his band is anything like the film’s subject. His self-deprecating delivery cracks up the audience again.
During most of the evening’s songs, the band is bathed in blue or blue/green light. Behind them, spare lighting effects - usually a spray of spattered color - illuminate a wide film screen.For the most part, Bruce's guitar playing is subdued. He’s an incredibly skilled performer and leader of an excellent band – but is not playing the role of the dazzling virtuoso that I saw last year when his solo tour stopped in Reno. With this band, it works. He has obvious, gracious rapport with them, especially Julie. And she is a stunning addition. Her harmonies are gorgeous, and her keyboard work is cooking tonight. Again and again, the audience lets her know they appreciate her contributions.
Bruce says that Postcards From Cambodia was a result of a trip he took to Vietnam and Cambodia. Julie’s keyboards provide the clean sound of vibes to accompany his poetry. During this, the blue-lit mood seems to transport us to a small Greenwich Village club in the early 60s, where we’re hearing the intense, on-target, and heartfelt words of an angry young poet. But this one has been around long enough to know something about humility, too.
And although the lyrical mood continues along a cynical path with his updated version of Burn (now with references to Kabul and Baghdad), the spirit is lighter as Bruce encourages and gets the audience to sing along during the chorus. Also bringing grins is an apparent problem that Steve has. As he crouches down to remedy the situation, the guitar tech comes running in from the wings and actually fills in by using the upright bass that is available at the moment, until Steve fixes the problem and rejoins the band. The tech guy races back offstage to the smiles of the band and cheers of the crowd. Bruce has him take an enthusiastic bow when they finish.
I really appreciate Bruce’s willingness to stretch musically with his new works and rearrangements of some old classics. It keeps him from getting predictable, or boring. Purists may not like the fact that every song he performs doesn’t sound like the original recording, but I hope this keeps his creative juices flowing. He also appears to enjoy sharing the stage with other skilled musicians, and encourages their unique contributions.
Open is a great rendition with a light moment. As Bruce laughingly described it subsequently, he has a “brain fade, which will only get worse in the future,” blanking out during the “Kundalini sunrise” line. A smiling Julie, singing harmony at that moment, helps to cover the glitch.
Bruce’s memory is intact and voice is smooth and strong during Night Train. His opening guitar flurry easily identifies the song, but it quickly fades into the background. He’s free to concentrate on each word as the band dives headfirst into the music – Ben’s rattle-track rhythms on his drums, Steve’s smooth & very tasty doodling, and Julie’s big accordion licks and perfect vocal harmonies.
“This one’s a little on the dark side, so be forewarned,” is Bruce’s intro to You’ve Never Seen Everything. Deep in blue light, he is more intense than I’ve ever seen him on this one. His entire face furrows so deeply that it appears to be on the edge of imploding as he repeats the word “pitchfork,” still horrified by the depravity of the scene he has just described.
Coming back to the moment, Bruce next launches into a lengthy, mesmerizing instrumental journey, highlighted by his amazing ability to accompany himself by skillfully using an echo effect. I had thought this was going to be an extended jam into an old favorite, due to the recurrence of a three-note guitar sequence (which I think occurred in the instrumental lead-in to Tibetan Side of Town, but my brain fade on that point isn’t helped by the fact that I’m hundreds of miles from the rest of my Bruce CDs, and I don’t have that one with me).
The screen behind the band becomes a deep blood red during If I Had a Rocket Launcher. Here again, Bruce closes his eyes tightly and mourns each word that he speaks. Another terrific, soaring guitar solo, too.
In Don’t Feel Your Touch, the song’s melancholy mood is broken when, behind and unbeknownst to Bruce, the guitar tech sneaks out three hardhats to Ben, Steve and Julie, each with their names taped on front. The audience giggles, but Bruce is oblivious, deep into the words. As he finishes the music, he turns around and sees Ben’s hat, smiles, and then notices Steve’s and Julie’s headgear, too. He laughs heartily at this inside joke, and then launches directly into the new version of his classic World of Wonders. The band takes its bows again and slides offstage, but the audience is on its feet again and won’t let them go.A disco ball is lit, sending spinning faeries around the darkened room to accompany the night’s final song, Celestial Horses. Then, the band comes together at center stage, links arms, and takes a deep group bow. They stroll off into the wings with ear-to-ear grins and wave to their fans.