Concert Review: Bruce Cockburn at the Birchmere May 9, 2011.
This was a kick ass concert, with a mix of old and new songs (only about 6 songs from the latest CD). Last Night of the World really came on strong with drummer Gary Graig pounding out a pulsating beat and Bruce really locked in. Mango was delicious, with the intricate guitar picking meshing sensuously with the violin. Overall the sound quality was really good, but the balance was not always right. On a few songs, it seemed like Jenny Scheinman’s violin was way too soft.
It was a real treat for Annabelle Chvostek (formerly of the Wailing Jennys) to come out and join the trio on Boundless (mandolin/vocals) and Driving Away (guitar/vocals) and both songs really hit the mark.
Introducing Bone in my Ear and noting the unusual instrument that he had strapped on, Bruce told a funny story about how charango’s are traditionally made of an armadillo shell with the hair still on them. If they are really good ones, the story goes that the hair keeps growing. Bruce has one, but the hair didn’t grow so it probably isn’t that good. In any event, he couldn’t figure out how to amplify it, so he asked Linda Manzer to make him an electric charango. Looks like a tiny, red 12-string. I’ve never been a big fan of the song, but watching him play the charango with violin and his voice in really good form it sounded great.
I wonder if he pulled out Call it Democracy since he was in DC and it was another treat. This old song about International Development Aid and the rape of the Third World seemed particularly appropriate given the proximity to the seat of Western Power.
Bruce did not talk with the audience that much last night. The discussion of charangos and a longer intro to Each One Lost, a song from the new album about witnessing the ceremony for fallen soldiers at an airforce base in the Middle East, were the most extensive bits. It was interesting to watch him play the dulcimer on Arrows of Light. He was standing very upright with his whole body and neck tensed. The main set closed with a smoking, ferocious version of If a Tree Falls, although the finale kind of collapsed as though all three of them were totally exhausted.
They all came back on stage after a short break for the encore. Comets of Kandahar was very good, as was All the Diamonds. Crossroads lacked a little punch. Gifts was a short, sweet finale. I think they were all pretty tired at that point and the encore overall just didn’t match the intensity of the main set.
Bruce, Jenny, and Gary were out in the foyer signing autographs after the show. We waited in line for about 25 minutes to get a signature and have a few words with Bruce. Who knows if we’ll ever get the chance again. Anyway, he was very gracious. I muttered something silly about hoping that when I grow up, I can be half as good a guitarist as he is (I’m only a few years younger than Bruce). He replied that he feels the same way, just a few more years and he’ll get it right. Jenny was a little pissy (perhaps just tired and maybe not happy that no one was bringing her CDs to get signed). Gary seemed the most relaxed and happy just to be there. I had a few positive comments for him about the start of the show and how his drums really got people into it and he said he really liked that part of the show and that song in particular.
Setlist (after the first 4, the order might not be correct since I wasn’t taking notes)
Last night of the world
Bone in My Ear (on Manzer solid-body charango)
Driving away (w/Annabelle)
Instrumental (from Jenny – Bruce on 12-String)
Call it Democracy
Called me back
Iris of the World
Each one lost
Wondering Where the Lions Are
Arrows of light
If a tree falls
Comets of Kandahar
All the diamonds
Tie me at the crossroad