Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bruce Cockburn at the Iron Horse Music Hall

Last Thursday, I hopped a train from New York to Connecticut and (after having a lovely breakfast with my parents) met up with my friend Simon, who drove us up to Northampton, Massachusetts ("where the coffee is strong and so are the women"). We wandered around town for a while, checking out the photography of Leonard Nimoy at the R. Michelson Gallery on Main Street and shuffling through the many bins of used CDs at Dynamite Records (the "longest-running independent record store in Western Massachusetts" -- wow...), where I walked away with a Mike Bloomfield compilation CD. Eventually, Sandro emerged from a final exam of some sort, and we went to the Dirty Truth to imbibe some fine brews and consume local delicacies such as a reuben with beets (me) and macaroni and cheese with kielbasa (Simon).

After a couple of pints -- Sandro limited himself to one, since he would need to spend the post-concert portion of the evening studying for a statistics exam (on factor analysis and logistic regression, for the curious) the following day -- we staggered over to the Iron Horse Music Hall, one of the legendary American folk venues, which Sandro is lucky enough to live within walking distance of these days.

We were there to see Bruce Cockburn. The show was the second of a 10-night swing through the Northeast -- the first also at the Iron Horse -- during which Bruce was recording a new live CD -- solo (as compared to 1977's Circles In The Stream, 1990's Live and 1998's EP-format You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chances). We were excited to be there. We decided to split a Wicked Wally, which involves a huge brownie and a lot of ice cream. I was worried that I might ruin the live album with a bout of vomiting over the second-floor balcony, but luckily, this did not happen.

The opening act was Canadian singer-songwriter Catharine MacLellan, introduced as being from Halifax and apparently raised on Prince Edward Island. Her set was fine but not terribly exciting. Mostly I will remember Sandro's quotation of a friend of his in response to repeated songs about/dedicated to her young daughter: "You reproduced? Great. Congratulations on being able to do something that every other living organism can do." (Rough, huh? Bet you'll be using it soon.) There was a song "about planting potatoes next to cute boys," but I remember the description -- as some sort of Andrew Wyeth painting in my head -- but not so much the song itself. Likewise her song "Something Gold," which she introduced by saying, "This song is about how my religious views differ from those of my family. It's also about getting divorced, which I haven't done yet... But I plan to do soon." (Nice.)

Bruce Cockburn took the stage with six or seven guitars around him and a set of effects pedals at his feet. The most amazing thing to me about the show was how he sounded like a full band all by himself, although I guess this is not so difficult to do with all of the reverb and echo that he was adding on to his acoustic guitar. But he is a master self-producer in this regard: I never found the technology distracting, simply impressive. And his playing is not to be underrated: he uses great fingerpicking patterns and arpeggios.

The set looked like this:

  • "World of Wonders"

  • "Last Night of the World"

  • "See You Tomorrow" - with an introductory story about being asked in college to help run guns to Cuba but not feeling entirely up to the task

  • "Night Train"

  • "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" - with an introductory story about a guy who used to hit on women by introducing himself as "Sir William of the Long Nights" -- "It never worked..." -- he played this classic beautifully

  • "Life Short Call Now"

  • "Beautiful Creatures"

  • "Wait No More" - he switched to a steel guitar for this number, which produced an annoying buzz unfortunately

  • "Let the Bad Air Out" - on 12-string guitar

  • "Put It in Your Heart" - terrific on the 12-string

  • At this point, we were chastised briefly for our requests -- mine was "Pacing the Cage." Bruce said, "You guys have started the incoherent hollering of titles early tonight." Nontheless, he then hit us with three hits in a row:

  • "The Trouble with Normal" - I clapped very early and alone on this one, so if you buy the live record and there is one lonely set of hands clapping at the beginning of this track, you know who it is

  • "Wondering Where the Lions Are"

  • "If a Tree Falls"

  • "Mystery"

  • ENCORE: An instrumental where the effects pedals built the guitar up to towering wall-of-sound proportions

  • "Pacing the Cage" - woo!

  • "How I Spent My Fall Vacation" - nice closer

We headed out of the Iron Horse well satisfied. Sandro left to go study statistical models for use with dichotomous variables. Simon plugged my iPod into his car stereo and put it on shuffle, and I drove him and me back to southern Connecticut.

No comments: