Bruce Cockburn at Shank Hall, Milwaukee – August 23, 2006
Review written by Tom Wilmeth
Bruce Cockburn’s performance at Shank Hall on Wednesday night was more lighthearted than usual, more politically charged than usual, and definitely more talkative than usual.
Although Cockburn’s albums have often included dark songs of personal and political despair, he does not always bring the heaviest of these songs to the concert stage. The second set gave a double shot of political consciousness with his 1981 composition “Dust & Diesel” followed by the recent “Baghdad,” on which he switched to a 12-string guitar.
If the second set showed his songwriting at its pointed best, Cockburn’s first set seemed at times to be an enjoyable but wandering sound check. He began with “Open,” “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” and hit one American hit single, “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” He then offered two instrumentals in close proximity, “Jerusalem Poker” and “The End of All Rivers.” Both were well played, but the audience seemed glad when Cockburn returned to singing, with “Different When it Comes to You.”
Gary Craig backed Cockburn an unnecessarily huge drum set, but his real assistance came from the many light percussive accoutrements he sprinkled throughout the songs. Julie Wolf was again present for this tour on various keyboards, often adding moody textures behind Cockburn’s acoustic guitar.
“Slow Down Fast” showed that the Canadian had not lost his sense of humor or his ability to rock, as he strapped-on an electric guitar and traded licks with Wolf. The evening ended with “Last Night of the World” and encores of two favorites, “Rocket Launcher” and “Night Train.”
Bruce Cockburn is neither a great singer nor a great guitarist. Yet his ideas were always interesting, and he must be given credit for reaching toward guitar lines which he was not always able to execute cleanly. On “Beautiful Creatures” Cockburn used a thin falsetto voice that was not exactly pleasing, but fit the atmospheric tenor of the composition.
Cockburn seemed to be having a good time all evening. He spoke about the songs and his new CD, “Life Short Call Now,” and indicated that for the first he had seen a bit of the city on this tour, taking a bike ride by the lake earlier in the day. If Cockburn expressed positive feelings towards Milwaukee, it was clear the feeling was mutual.