A gem that has gleamed generously and reflected light for 50 years gave a mesmerizing performance at the Music Box in San Diego. His fans have grudgingly accepted that he may have reached a level of recognition far below his true stature, but they are constantly singing his praises and new believers are being added to the fold. The number of awards Cockburn has quietly accepted will stand the test of time (as will his gift of monetary rewards associated with the awards). The issues he addresses publicly are intellectually fascinating and musically captivating.
His much-delayed 50th anniversary tour is finally underway and it begs the wonderful question of why legacy artists are touring. Money can be nice, but in the case of accomplished artists like Cockburn, there must inevitably always be this ineffable need to share your art with others. And thank goodness Cockburn does.
An admittedly adoring audience welcomed every song he played, which included a generous sample of four new songs (with rumors of a glorious batch of additional songs enough to fill an album by fall). Possessing one of the most comprehensive catalogs of any fellow Canadian artist, Cockburn was spoiled for choice. Many in the audience remarked that his recent performance was even better than the previous show he gave in San Diego in 2005 at the smaller Belly Up.
As one of the best guitarists north of the border, perhaps anywhere, Cockburn’s dexterity on the fretboard was breathtaking. Her voice was incredibly supple and evocative after all these years.
Cockburn has long explored the dichotomy between his evolving Christian religious belief and the darkness and pain in the world. “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” captures this dichotomy very well, but its broadband arrangement would be saved for another day.
This solo acoustic evening offered the ambitious nudity of us alone, the singer, his song and his guitar. All of its thought-provoking lyrics are underpinned by incredibly inventive melodies. Often, as in the brilliant “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, the jubilant melody is juxtaposed against the darker lyrics. This dichotomy also underlies the most brilliant part of Brian Wilson’s work, for example.
Cockburn alternated between several acoustic guitars and presented wonderful versions of “Pacing the Cage” and “Dust and Diesel”. Both songs reveal the complex and perplexing nature of the world. Both songs featured his observations on the difficulties encountered with the way humanity walks through the world. “Stolen Land” and “If a Tree Falls” push darkness to the fore. For the latter song, Cockburn deployed a National steel guitar with a haunting effect loop. His foot occasionally struck a set of wind chimes, adding an ethereal tone.
One of four new songs (each written in their new San Francisco home) titled “Us All” captured a universal perspective:
Like it or not, the human race
Are we all
The story is what it is
Self-inflicted scars don’t die
But slowly soak up the DNA
From all of us
But it would be folly to conclude that the evening was nothing but dark and dark. A happy new song was written in Maui called “Honey From God”, and it was eye-opening. Likewise, her love song from the night before Y2K “Last Night of the World” was quietly jubilant.
I remember a harrowing scene buried in the middle of a movie called “Year of Living Dangerously”. Our hero, bewildered by the misery he faces, is advised by his guide on how to deal with all the pain and darkness.
These tips and advice are echoed by what you’ll see on Cockburn’s website:
“Part of the job of being human is just trying to spread the light, on whatever level you can do it.
(photos by Brad Auerbach)