Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Reverential Introduction: Bruce Cockburn's Songwriting Shines Solo in a Converted Buffalo Church -- Concert Review

Concert Review

Bruce Cockburn 
Asbury Hall at Babeville
Buffalo, NY
May 8, 2019

Last week, I shuffled off to Buffalo for a few days.

Purely a leisure excursion, this was prompted by a variety of desires, as although I had technically been to Buffalo twice, I had never really spent time exploring the city.

I wanted to explore the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, tour two public Frank Lloyd Wright houses and visit nearby Niagara Falls, though I had before.

I did all these things enjoyably, and as something of the impetus for this trip at this time, saw The Who last Thursday night in KeyBank Center. Backed by an orchestra, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey delighted. I'll be seeing The Who again next week in the Chicago area, so will lump together the reviews.

This week in Buffalo I might have ponied up to see the touring musical Dear Evan Hansen once again, but last Wednesday there were no theatrical performances of note, so I went to see Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.

I bought a ticket just that afternoon, as though Cockburn's is a name I've long heard--it's pronounced Co-burn--I really didn't know any of his music (he's only been putting out albums since 1970).

He played, solo, at a venue called Asbury Hall at Babeville, which was a 5-block walk through Buffalo's rather sleepy downtown from my Hotel @ the Lafayette.

The 1,200 seat concert hall is in a converted church, built in 1876 but slated for demolition around 1995, upon which Buffalo musician Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe Records label bought and renovated the building, which got christened "Babeville."

Even for a Jew like me it was a pretty cool place to see a concert.

Cockburn, long legendary in Canada, filled the place, but I was able to get a good single seat at face value.

The singer, who will turn 74 on May 27, took the stage around 8:15pm, without any opening acts or accompanying musicians.

Literally my only pre-existing familiarity with any of his songs came from the few I heard via Spotify on the walk over.

So audience applause at the outset of some songs was what clued me in on what could be considered his classics, but from the opening "States I'm In"--which leads off his most recent album, 2017's Bone on Bone--I enjoyed everything I heard. 

The show was essentially a master class in songwriting and acoustic guitar playing, with Cockburn eminently gracious and affable.

Played second was "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" from 1984, a terrific song whose lyric "Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight" was familiar to me because U2 had reverentially referenced it in their own "God, Part II" a few years later.

You can see Bruce Cockburn's Buffalo setlist here, with "Cafe Society," "3 Al Purdys" and "Jesus Train" being new songs I particularly noted--again, I didn't know the dates of origin during the show--along with what I now know to be oldies:

"Last Night of the World," "Peggy's Kitchen Wall," "If a Tree Falls," "Call It Democracy," "Wondering Where the Lions Are" and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." (The 2001 compilation album Anything Anytime Anywhere seems to be one I should explore.)

Cockburn took about a 20-minute set break but played 19 songs over 2+ full hours, and I was genuinely quite impressed.

I've long said--somewhat joking though largely not--that rock music is my religion.

And though this wasn't really a hard-rocking evening--and I can't say I loved Bruce Cockburn nearly as much as I did The Who--it certainly was an apt and special setting in which to learn about someone I should've known long ago.

Who would've known a free night in Buffalo could wind up being so spiritually fulfilling?

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