There’s nothing quite like a warm, intimate concert on a cold February night, especially in a beautiful setting like the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Center (FOPAC) in downtown St. Catharines. On February 24, the sold-out crowd of 782 people were treated to a spectacular show by humanitarian, 13 time Juno winner, and Order of Canada Officer, Bruce Cockburn.
Cockburn shuffled onstage to emphatic applause, while he flashed a smile and thanked the audience. Cockburn’s seemingly small presence on the large stage of the FOPAC was quickly enlarged with the first clear strum of his guitar. Jumping into a passionate version of “Rumours of Glory”, the sound of Cockburn’s strong voice and pristine guitar filled the room. The clear sounds floated by and then disappeared with no hint of feedback or echo. Cockburn’s skillful picking created elaborate patterns and rhythms that danced around the verses and themes of the songs. The first set was met with many of Cockburn’s hits including “Lover’s in a Dangerous Time” which according to the CBC was a positive message to his daughter and her generation, as well as the politically charged “Call It Democracy” where Cockburn pulled out a sleek black guitar and strummed a rocking version, bringing passionate cheers from the crowd. Other highlights from the first set included “World of Wonders”, the galloping instrumental “The End of All Rivers”, and the chugging blues number “Jesus Train” which ended the set and brought a break for, as Cockburn said, both himself and the Audience.
The second set was as immaculate as the first, transporting the audience to different places as he transferred from song to song. The most moving piece of the set titled “When it’s gone, it’s gone”, had no lyrics, but an instrumental story that featured the sound of waves roaring on a beach like a squadron of F-16s according to Cockburn’s song “Planet of the Clowns” which he transitioned into using the waves as a Segue. The atmospheric songs moved the audience to a small island off the coast of Morocco, on a beach, with nothing but the whole universe in the sky to look at, and together with Cockburn the meaning of the songs was discovered. The set continued with the massive sing-along that was “Wondering Where the Lions Are” as Cockburn’s jovial picking continued to fill the room. The set ended with a version of “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”, the lyrics describing the horrible atrocities that occurred in Guatemala, Mexico and Central America in the 1980s are still relevant today and seemed to comment on the violence and politics of the time.
The end of the second set was greeted with hooting and hollering as the previously quiet audience had finally found their voice and appreciation for the Canadian Legend. The standing ovation was well deserved and Cockburn responded with a moving three song encore of “Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror” and “All The Diamonds in the World”, the latter featured a disco ball which made the room sparkle as if Cockburn’s song was coming to life. The final song of the night was a bluesy “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night”. After the show, Bruce came into the lobby and greeted a crowd of fans with a smile and a glass of red wine as he shared more stories and signed autographs. It was truly a special show and Bruce Cockburn continues to prove that even at 70, he is still a virtuoso on guitar and an example of vocal prowess. This Canadian icon’s show is surely not one to be missed.
- Adam Bradley Thompson
*Corrections have been made to the article post-publication.