Bruce Cockburn opened his 1st of 2 sets, on the on the 1st of 2 nights at the Aladdin theater in Portland, Oregon on Thursday, December 16, 2021. It was his rescheduled “50th Anniversary” tour after being postponed in 2020. Cockburn performed a total of 21 selections that included many from his Greatest Hits (1970-2020) album. It was a solo acoustic show but Bruce can make his one guitar produce a level of aural delight that transcends expectations.
The night began with “Sweetness and Light” from 2019’s instrumental album, Crowing Ignites which segued into “When You Give it Away” from 1999’s Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu. Bruce greeted the audience and said that it was good to be back in Portland As he dove into “Tropic Moon” from 1983’s The Trouble With Normal. “Orders” is a new song that Bruce performed on his Four New Songs video, produced in January and February 2021, as an alternative to live performances.
“The list is long; as I recall
Our orders said to love them all.”
“States I’m In” was another cut from Bruce’s 33rd album, 2017’s Bone on Bone and was a rousing rapid fire recitation of his reflections as a world traveler.
“Ooh-wee, all the places I’ve been
Each one reflected in the states I’m in, uh huh
States I’m in”
Back in the late 1970s, he thought about going to Bahgdad if he could find the right connection to show him around but he didn’t so instead he went to Mexico and Guatemala. His brother was doing relief work in Central America when he visited him and was shown around. It was his first encounter with a refugee camp before he headed to Nicaragua. He explained all this as he changed guitars to his green bodied 6 string as an introduction to “Dust and Diesel” from 1984’s Stealing Fire. The first set concluded with “Café Society,” “Pacing the Cage” and “Last Night of the World.”
Cockburn explained that “Last Night of the World” was inspired by the now forgotten threat of “Y2K” back in 1999. Everyone was stocking up on water and energy bars and then on January 1, 2000, he did an outdoor show in Toronto, Canada when it was 20 degrees below zero. “That felt like the end of the world” Bruce said. Now we have the Meta-world and maybe “Y2K” would have been a good thing in retrospect he mused.
There was a short intermission and when Cockburn returned he picked up the 12 string guitar and began playing “Stolen Land,” a song about the exploitation of indigenous peoples. When he concluded the audience burst into thunderous applause which he followed with “In the Falling Dark” the title track from his 1976 album of the same name. Bruce switched back to his green acoustic guitar and began playing “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” which drew more thunderous applause. He talked about how he spent a lot of time in Northern Ontario as a kid which was forested rolling hills. It was there that he discovered the beauty and fragility of nature and was inspired by it to write “Let Us Go Laughing” from 1971’s High Winds White Sky.
Bruce introduced “Honey From God” a very new song that he wrote in July 2021 in Maui. Then he moved over to a dulcimer for the next song and quoted a phrase that Mark Twain supposedly once wrote, that the coldest winter that he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. He then played “April in Memphis”, an instrumental from Crowing Ignites. He switched back over to his green guitar for “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” his highest charting US hit from 1979’s Dancing in the Dragons Jaws. The 2nd set concluded with “If a Tree Fall’s from 1988’s Big Circumstance. Even though he was using an acoustic guitar it was plugged in and amplified through accessories to the point that Bruce’s amazing finger picking dexterity produced sounds rarely heard from an acoustic guitar.
He concluded the set to thunderous applause that brought him back out for an encore. When he returned to the stage he had his resonator guitar slung over his shoulder and dove right into “Rocket Launcher” another song from 1984’s Stealing Fire whose message is still relevant today and always resonates with the audience. “Mama Just Wants to Barrel House All Night Long” from the 1973 album Night Vision is a blues driven number which was followed by “Us All” another newer composition written in San Francisco in August 2020 that also appeared on the Four New Songs video made in 2021. The final song of the night was “Arrows of Light” from 1975’s Joy Will Find a Way. My only disappointment from the night was that Bruce didn’t perform “Iesus Ahattonia (The Huron Carol) from his Christmas album since it was the season.