by Bob Gersztyn for bluesrockreview.com
On Monday January 30, 2023, Bruce Cockburn performed at the historic Elsinore Theater in Salem, Oregon. Bruce came out using a walking stick and sat on a fleece covered stool that was flanked by guitars on the right and some percussion instruments on the left next to a cooler used for a foot stool. He began the show with an acoustic six string and began playing “After the Rain” from his 1979 release Dancing In The Dragons Jaws. “Night Train” from 1996’s The Charity of Night followed with its droning guitar providing the melodic beat that carried the chugging lyrics.
“Not a knife-throw from here you can hear the night-train passing.”
In 1999 Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu produced “The Last Night of the World” which Cockburn performed impeccably on his six-string singing about
“The radio playing Superchunk and the friends of Dean Martinez.” After the opening trio of songs Bruce began telling the audience about the popularity of Fidel Castro in Canada in the early days of his government. He explained that he and his brother would play Castro and Batista and Bruce would be Castro. This led to his interest in the Nicaraguan revolution of the 1970s which got him interested in Central America. His brother invited him to visit him to Guatemala while he was working for Oxfam, a Canadian relief organization. When Bruce visited his brother, the trip inspired him to write a number of songs for 1984’s Stealing Fire album including “Dust and Diesel.”
2017’s Bone on Bone included the comedic song, “3 Al Purdy’s” which Bruce explained was a documentary film project that he was asked to contribute a song to. Al Purdy was a Canadian poet and the song is about a street vendor selling three Al Purdy Chapbooks for twenty dollars. The song included Cockburn playing his mouth trumpet and was followed by him telling the crowd that this was part of the evening when you meditate as he re-tuned his guitar. He informed the guitar players in the audience that his tuning was DAD GAD which led to “Café Society” from the same album.
This is a new song from an album that will be coming out in May called “Orders” he announced. The lyrics are spiritually charged which is one of the qualities of all Bruce’s music that draws people to it.
“A challenge great—but as I recall
Our orders said to love them all.”
“Strange Waters” is a killer song from The Charity of Night that is a reworking of the 23rd Psalm. Instead of “the Lord leading me besides still waters” the path leads to “Strange Waters.” Bruce told the crowd that he would be back after he took a short break. The second set began when Bruce returned twenty minutes later and picked up his resonator guitar for an instrumental titled “The End of All Rivers,” from 2005’s Speechless album.
He introduced another song from the new album titled “When the Spirit Walks into the Room” performed with the resonator guitar.
“You’re a thread upon the loom
When the Spirit walks in the room.”
After changing guitars back to acoustic six string he dove into “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” from Stealing Fire as the crowd roared with approval. Bruce did a couple of extended guitar solos demonstrating his mastery of the instrument. Bruce told the crowd that this was the second attempt at the 50th anniversary tour that didn’t happen in 2020; (his eponymous first solo album was released in 1970.) “I’m going way back to an older song” Cockburn announced as he changed guitars to a twelve string and began “In the Falling Dark,” the title song from his 1976 album. The album was the first after he experienced a spiritual epiphany and became a “born again” Christian which led him to explore his faith through his compositions.
Keeping the twelve string Bruce began “Stolen Land” and played an amazing solo that the audience went nuts over clapping enthusiastically. After changing back to the six-string guitar he said “here’s another really old song that pre-dates the fifty years. It came from the 1960’s which he called mystical times and then stated that “the 1950’s sucked but had good music with Little Richard and Elvis.” “Let Us Go Laughing” appeared on “High Winds, White Sky” his second album released in 1971. It’s a gentle mellow song with an intricate guitar solo followed by an up-tempo conclusion.
“Wondering Where the Lions Are” from Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws drew enthusiastic cheers and clapping as Bruce began one of his most popular songs. The crowd sang along in a call and response on the chorus singing the second verse to his lead. Cockburn told the crowd “you sound beautiful when you sing.” The last song of the set was “If a Tree Falls” from his 1988 album, Big Circumstance. The song is an up-tempo guitar driven excursion into an ecological view of the earth that ended to thunderous applause and screaming as Bruce left the stage.
The crowd’s enthusiasm brought Cockburn back out with two other people. After picking up his twelve-string guitar he introduced Inger Nova Jorgensen on vocals and Jeff Pevar on resonator guitar and vocals. “Five Fifty-One” from 2011’s Small Source of Comfort had Cockburn and Pevar exchanging licks and all three singing in harmony.
“Middle of the night cops come knocking on my door
Still don’t know what my neighbor went and called them for.”
The night concluded with another song from the upcoming album called “Into the Now.” When the trio concluded and took a final bow, they ended the two-hour performance that met the audience’s expectations.
Review with more photos
If you’re looking for more gig reports, setlists & photos be sure to check out the cockburnproject.net.