Bruce Cockburn at the LA Acoustic Music Festival
Review (blog post) by Bob Lefsetz

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8 June 2009 -

Last Night Of The World

Iím sipping Flor De Cana and lime juice, itís three a.m.

Maybe on the east coast. But in L.A., itís just shy of midnight.

I should be winding down, loading up my car and driving to Feliceís house for some shut-eye. But Iím all revved up, buzzed, even though writingís ultimately gonna keep me up all night, I have to.

I know these people who live in the West Valley. So far out, itís got a different area code. Could even be a different time zone for all I know. They may not lunch at the Palm, you might not see their names in "Hits", but theyíre in the music business. Theyíve all got jobs, but their work is secondary to their avocation, putting on house concerts. And one of these music lovers decided to go big time, to put on her own acoustic music festival on the Santa Monica Pier.

On one hand, it was a mistake. This is a professional business. You canít compete with those whoíve dedicated 10,000 hours. They know how to rip you off, scam you in a way you canít foresee. But Renee Bodie wanted to put on a festival that no one else would, and therefore she had to do it herself.

I was stunned that the sound was so good. Itís so hard to get it right outside.

Richard Thompson reminded me of the days when an executive like Hale Milgrim would sign an act like him to a major label. Natalie MacMaster was a real surprise. I went from not caring to running right down front, needing to be closer to her magic.

But I was absolutely stunned by Bruce Cockburn.

I was talking to Russ & Julie, Reneeís West Valley counterparts, when I heard the P.A. system go live. I walked out to hear Renee give her thank yous. And then Bruce took the stage.

I bought my first Bruce Cockburn album back in the seventies, at Grammy Ní Granny, my favorite record store in Westwood. Back when the record emporium was my shul, when I made a weekly pilgrimage every Friday afternoon. Iíd say I was their best customer, but Ken Russell used to come and buy an armful of soundtracks at a time.

Then Donnie Ienner gave Bruce a big time chance twenty years back. But even though those Columbia albums are stellar, they didnít break through. Bruce Cockburn works the margins. Heís not an acquired taste, heís just a prisoner of the cognoscenti. If you knowÖ

I thought I knew. But I HAD NO IDEA!

Bruce walked on stage wearing a thigh-length jacket that would keep the sand from your insides in the Sahara. I wasnít sure if it was a look, or whether, like the rest of us in attendance, he was fighting the unseasonable cold.

He picks up a green guitar, yes green, and starts playing in a unique way. How heís picking the notes, I canít exactly tell. Heís got both a lead and a bass line happening simultaneously. Itís riveting. Iím immediately transported to that place only music can take you. One where the rest of the world doesnít matter.

Iím slapping my thighs, caught up in the groove.

And then Bruce plays "Last Night Of The World".

Iíve got three versions on my computer, NONE of them are as good, as great, as the one I heard tonight!

The radioís playing Superchunk and the Friends of Dean Martinez

Old acts are supposed to be old farts. I donít know how many people in attendance knew who these two referenced acts were. But when Bruce sang this line, I swooned. You see "Last Night Of The World" is one of my personal favorites. Itís the song I play when things are imperfect, when I see the challenges, but have enough oomph, enough chutzpah, to carry on.

Midnight it was bike tires whacking the pot holes
Milling humansí shivering energy glow
Fusing the space between them with bar-throb bass and laughter

Today a show is spectacle. Handlers say the MTV generation demands it, that music is not enough. But theyíre wrong. One man with one guitar can move the world. Those in attendance tonight remember. With their graying hair and lumpy bodies, they had to come out for that hit, that only music can give. Bruce is thwacking the guitar strings, punctuating the licks with lyrics. Itís a concoction only an alchemist can create. Where before there was silence, now we were experiencing something exquisite, far more valuable than anything Tiffany can craft.

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

What would you do if it truly was the last night of the world? Log on to you bank account and see how much money you have? Go sit in your automobile? Luxuriate in your mini-mansion? That would be sad. If itís truly the last night of the world, possessions, accoutrements no longer matter, weíre all equal. Itís time to go out in the streets amongst the people and communicate, and party.

If itís the last night of the world, I want to be at the gig. A Bruce Cockburn show would be perfect. Because it would make me feel fully alive before I die.

Iíve seen the flame of hope among the hopeless
And that was truly the biggest heartbreak of all
That was the straw that broke me open

I awoke to a tweet asking me if "the state of music has ever been THIS bad?" I responded that tech drives the world today. And thatís truly heartbreaking to those of us who remember when it was the opposite, when you had to listen to the radio, to records, to know what was really going on.

Tonight I had hope. And Iíd been hopeless. There were no paparazzi, no TV cameras. I thought I was at the Santa Monica Pier for an evening of entertainment. But thatís not what I got. What I experienced was the ESSENCE OF LIFE ITSELF!

You play these records at home. Over and over again. You go to the show and the performances donít quite capture the magic, theyíre perfunctory. Without the studio wizardry, they just donít measure up. BUT NOT TONIGHT! My favorite song came early in the set, before I expected it. I could barely contain myself. I was singing along so loud I was afraid of irritating my neighbors, I was bouncing in my seat like I was spastic. Thatís what music does, it takes over your body, youíre no longer in control, YOUíRE POSSESSED!

Iím looking up at the sky. With those clouds off in the distance, and the full moon illuminating the surrounding the landscape. On one hand, Iím so far from home. Where I grew up, the ocean was on the other side. Where you went to college, who your parents were, they were all that mattered. Rejecting that, I got in my car and drove to the land of the Beach Boys, where all could be accepted, where a bit of fun with your work was not taboo. L.A.ís where you come to reinvent yourself, where you come to take chances. Renee Bodie took a chance and started her own festival. I was the beneficiary. Bruce Cockburnís performance of "Last Night Of The World" was the best thing Iíve heard all year.

This YouTube performance is good, but nowhere near as great as tonightís performance. Because playing solo, Bruce Cockburn had to carry the entire tune, he had to be the engine that kept the song moving forward. Tonight, he was a veritable FREIGHT TRAIN!

Thanks to Bob Lefsetz for writing from the heart the feelings Bruce brings to us all.

Related Links

  • Lefsetz Letter
  • LA Acoustic Music Festival
  • ~bobbi wisby

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    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.