We thought it a bit unusual that Bruce Cockburn would be playing a set at the Washington National Cathedral, but who are we to turn down an invitation to see an artist that we've liked for some time (I can distinctly remember hearing "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" in the mid-80s in Austin, and seeking out the album that it came from). We arrived to the cathedral right at concert time, so the general admission seats we got weren't the farthest pew back, but we might have considered getting their a little earlier. Must have been my latent church-going ways coming back to me--I mean, who sits in the front?--but to get their earlier would have meant that we couldn't have enjoyed our dinner at Chef Geoff's, either.
The cathedral representative came out first to welcome us to the first in their new "Rock the Church" series, which received a smattering of applause and woops, people still feeling a little awkward about making noise in the echoing hall of high arches and stained glass. The idea behind the series isn't so much as having rock stars play inside the cathedral as to elevate the idea that popular music can be as uplifting and spiritual as old hymns. We figured that there won't be a number of bands that wouldn't get invited to play, such as Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath, even though the cathedral is nondenominational.
Cockburn came out and started with a number of new songs. The acoustics in the cathedral highlighted the echoes ("more reverb!") which he used to good effect on the choruses, but it made it quite difficult to understand the verse lyrics for songs you were unfamiliar with, as well as understanding the between song comments. This got better as the night went on, as I suspect the audio engineers in the back were fiddling with it and made some improvements.
He played about fifteen songs, half of which were from his last two albums (the most recent being Life Short Call Now, for which he played the title song), and then a smattering of his greatest hits, including "Wondering Where The Lions Are," "If A Tree Falls," "Dust And Diesel," "Lovers In A Dangerous Time," and my personal favorite, "Peggy's Kitchen Wall" (which he introduced by saying that the person the song was about had passed away just recently). He had about four guitars that he switched out every few songs, including an acoustic steel guitar and a twelve-string, and, if nothing else, you could tell from this concert that he was a masterful player. The audience was clearly fans, often calling out songs (although the funniest request was "play them all!") to which he responded good naturedly, "it's great that you guys know all those." On several songs, he invited folks to join in and sing, saying, "that's not so out of context here."
It was an enjoyable concert, and while the acoustics weren't the best for a rock concert (even one without distortion), they were better than, say, the Iota or the Black Cat, where the space is too small for the sound, rather than being too large. The next event is Sheryl Crow on Earth Day, which is only somewhat tempting.