Last night I had my first chance to catch Bruce Cockburn live, at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. I think he gets the inaugural spot on my list of “Artists it should be compulsory to hear live.”
He didn’t have a band with him - it was just Bruce and his acoustic guitars, with some backing vox and keys/accordion from a lady by the name of Julie Wolf - but the only thing you’d notice is how it lets the man’s guitar playing shine out like it should. I like live music, a lot. I don’t catch as much as I’d like to. But I can say without worrying at all that Cockburn is the best guitarist I’ve heard live. Full on rhythmic accompaniment from that one instrument. The occasional jaw-dropping lead break, as well. And I never would have thought of putting an acoustic instrument through a tremolo; but, then, I’m not Bruce Cockburn (and as a particular fan of The Charity Of Night, in my head his sound is at least partly defined by proper use of that effect). It works well.
As far as the songs are concerned, I was made happy pretty early on when he did Pacing The Cage (its delicious bleakness and powerful imagery make it one of my all time favourite cuts, not to mention the beautiful guitar part), which left me free to enjoy a range of tracks from the new album - which I really must get round to finding a copy of. The title track, You’ve Never Seen Everything, is classic Bruce: spoken word over a tense groove, assailing and assaulting the listener with some truly harrowing imagery that is still shot through with a sense of radical hope. For more politicising, see the likes of Trickle Down and the classic If I Had A Rocket Launcher, a song I have more of a taste for in this live, acoustic form.
This is a gig I’d been looking forward to since I heard about it at the start of the summer, and I’m glad to have joined the select (committed, fanatical, familial) crowd of UK live Bruce devotees. May this be the first of many.