15 February 2012 - "Better late than never," sighed Bruce Cockburn shortly after opening his solo Halifax show Tuesday at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, but there was no need to ask for the packed audience’s forgiveness.
The delay couldn’t be helped. His originally planned November, 2010 tour was postponed due to a nasty case of pneumonia that cropped up shortly after returning home from Bolivia, and then a year later he cleared his schedule after becoming a dad for the second time, at age 66.
So here was Cockburn with his batteries recharged, a formidable giant of Canadian folk music in top form, taking the stage to the theme from Dexter, the cable TV series about a serial killer who only snuffs out deserving targets. Appropriate, in the sense that Cockburn slays his dragons with song, and often sardonic wit, although given the weakness of Dexter’s last season and the strength of the singer’s latest release Small Source of Comfort, it's clear who’s got the sharper edge.
Dressed in a baggy black suit with a stage backdrop of camouflage netting and surrounded by four giant sets of wind chimes, Cockburn started at full steam with Night Train, like a white-haired conductor guiding us on a journey to exotic places full of memorable characters. The first half of the two-and-a-half-hour evening kept up that feeling of momentum thematically, if not always rhythmically, taking us through Tokyo’s neon-lit mix of beauty and horror, and bridging the gap between folk and jazz on Driving Away, co-written with former Wailin’ Jennys member Annabelle Chvostek.
Few songwriters can get away with an opening line like "The dichotomy of being a sentient being," but Cockburn makes it work in step with Driving Away’s double meaning, whether it’s leaving town or pushing against opposing forces. Still, it’s not as descriptive as the need to “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight,” one of his most famous lines from his biggest hit, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, which Cockburn still sings with passion and conviction. It’s hard to believe the song is nearly 30 years old, and sadder to think that its lyrics about authorities trying to control who people can and can’t love are still painfully relevant.
His biggest connection to Nova Scotia is found in the theme song he wrote for Don Shebib’s 1970 film Goin’ Down the Road, about a couple of Cape Breton lads who head to Toronto to seek their fortune. Cockburn admitted to having an uneasy relationship to the song "never having been to Cape Breton, and the only person I knew from there was John Allan Cameron, and I didn’t think he was typical of the people there.
"But then the Barra MacNeils recorded it, Rita MacNeil got me to sing it with her, and the Wailin’ Jennys have done a version, so if all those people think it’s okay, I guess I’d better try and learn it."
The effort was certainly appreciated, and like Lovers in a Dangerous Time, the tale of young Cape Bretoners heading west for work has only become truer as time has gone by.
Songs from Small Source of Comfort also got a healthy airing over the course of the night, including the instrumental guitar piece Bohemian 3-Step which starts in jaunty Leo Kottke mode with sparkling finger picking before a minor mood sneaks in with its own sense of mystery and wonder. The Iris of the World also had an eerie aura about it, assembling random thoughts that coalesce around the cultural mass that is New York City.
The first set ended with Small Source of Comfort’s Boundless, with Cockburn activating the windchimes with a kickdrum pedal, letting the random beauty of their tolling underscore the song’s lyric about finding comfort in the infinite range of possibility presented by the cosmos.
The second half was less about forward momentum and more about painting pictures, especially with two of the best songs from the latest record, polar opposites in mood. Call Me Rose is a wry tale of a single mom living in the projects who’s actually the reincarnation of Richard M. Nixon — "There’s been some curiosity about that song south of the border," grinned Cockburn — while Each One Lost is a solemn strathspey inspired by the sight of seeing Canadian caskets being shipped home from Afghanistan.
"Each one lost is everyone’s loss, you see," he sang without an obvious trace of sentiment, although you get the sense that he is humbled by being able to play this touching tribute to the fallen.
Wisely, If I Had a Rocket Launcher didn’t follow Each One Lost (it came in the well-deserved encore), and instead the crowd joined in for an unprompted singalong to Wondering Where the Lions Are which came as a pleasant surprise to Cockburn, who exclaimed "Well sung, thank you. That was wonderful."
"WE LOVE YOU BRUCE!" cried a voice from the darkness. "It’s mutual," he replied.
Cockburn's Nova Scotia tour continues on Sunday at Truro's Marigold Cultural Centre, followed by shows at The Pearl Theatre in Lunenburg on Tuesday, Sydney's Membertou Trade and Convention Centre on Thursday, Feb. 23, Mermaid Imperial Centre in Windsor on Friday, Feb. 24 and finally Liverpool's Astor Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 25.[Tour Dates]
~from The Chronicle Herald - by Stephen Cooke - Recharged Cockburn Delights Halifax Crowd. Photo caption "Folk music giant Bruce Cockburn performs Tuesday night at Rebecca Cohn in Halifax." by ADRIEN VECZAN / Staff. (firstname.lastname@example.org)