Grey Eagle Casino, Calgary – February 20, 2015
During the night’s performance, Cochrane made a number of references to his campfire songs. Initially, the statement sounded odd and out of place, but by the end of the evening it made sense. To expand on the statement with an analogy: Cochrane is the campfire and the songs that surround him are heated and charged by his fire.
Cochrane and long-time musical companions Kenny Greer (pedal steel and guitars) and Jeff Jones (bass and vocals) were joined on stage by Jessica Mitchell on mandolin and vocals, plus a drummer and banjo player whose names could not be captured, (apologizes to these excellent players), who provided a full and layered sound that expressed the campfire analogy well. Cochrane has never been an over-the-top kind of performer-all flash and method, but more like a troubadour who plays his songs of soft melancholia with a deep and warm heart, more interested in the emotional touch than the physical reaction.
Starting the show with “Boy Inside the Man,” a fitting crowd pleaser that had people singing and nodding in tempo, enjoying the moment and letting the song wash over them. Near the end of the song, Cochrane coaxed the audience to chant along in the rock tradition of singer-audience response. The first few rows were energetic while the rest of those assembled appeared trance-like in their responses, not quite bothering to sing, but so lost in the music that their voices are more chant like; the space between the notes sitting gently on their faces.
Moving into “Untouchable One” which Cochrane dedicated to “all the strong women in the audience” set the controls for passion with Mitchell’s harmonies giving the lyrics more poignancy and depth, while her gentle gyrations were greatly appreciated by the male members in attendance who hooted their pleasure with her every turn and sashay. The banjo riffs added a nice country tone to the song, but it remained grounded in its bluesy-rock roots. After the song, Cochrane gushed, “We love you guys…you guys are crazy,” as he bent down to shake and slap the many hands outstretched to meet his. Crazy? It’s a subjective term, but he must have seen something in those faces in front of him-some connection and sharing of experience that wasn’t present everywhere else.
“Can’t Stay Here,” one of the country sounding tracks from the new album had Cochrane pulling out the harmonica and blowing with hope and desire. Staying with the new album “Take It Home” the band slid into “Sunday Afternoon” and moved into “Sinking Like a Sunset.” The band was in a groove and Cochrane’s vocals, somewhat strained and a little hoarse, added gravitas to the lyrics of loss and redemption. Greer’s stretched notes on the pedal steel were haunting cries that wove through the music, sounding earthy and wild like an elemental power just beyond recognition.
“The Big League” fired up the crowd, being one of the big hits that everyone knows. Cochrane’s dedication to, “All the Moms that drive their kids to hockey games and practices,” served to bring out more cheers and shouts of support.
The songs, the music, the audience, the space blended into a heated expression of experience, blurring the lines of rock and folk and country into a fusion full of quiet intensities and passions. Not a rock spectacle and not a country barn dance, but something more real and tangible; a gritty performance of songs that truly illustrated the human condition.
“Country Girls Never Get Old” and “Pink Time” built on those elemental energies and fed the crowd. It was an emotional night where the music moved through one, finding those forgotten spaces of experience and igniting forgotten memories. One felt, but didn’t not understanding why. This is the affect that a Tom Cochrane show can have.
“Good Times,” “Ocean Blue,” and “Wish You Well” fueled more of those responses. While the first rows rocked hard, people in the back moved quietly. It was a communal series of moments, tied together with the music.
“Light in the Tunnel” and “Human Race” attempted to draw us out of our reveries, but it wasn’t until the first chords and harmonica riffs of “Life is a Highway” that we snapped into the present with everyone jumping to their feet.
After many bows and handshakes, and an empty stage covered in blue light, the band returned full of smiles and launch into “Victory Day,” “Lunatic Fringe,” and “White Hot” which sealed the night and sent it home.
Cochrane ended the evening sitting alone at the piano, bringing the place to a quiet hum. Alone in the spotlight, he sang us off, but the embers of this campfire night continued to burn and will warm our hearts for some time to come.
Photos by Charles Hope