For most of his five-decade career, Juno-winning Canadian folksinger Bruce Cockburn had the scenic wilds of his native Ottawa, Ontario as a backdrop for his thoughtful, often politically inspired anthems. But since moving to the Bay Area with his wife and then-baby daughter in 2014, he says he’s adopted a new, decidedly San Francisco state of mind.
He used to read about our town’s miasmic fog in Dashiell Hammett Continental Op stories, but it was just a romantic notion. Now that he lives out on the Avenues, the hard-boiled fog has become almost old-friend familiar.
“I was out last night around seven o’clock, and it was already dark and the fog was coming in, and it had that wonderful sense of surreal mystery that the fog brings with it,” he said wistfully. “That’s one of the things that I love about San Francisco.”
Cockburn’s songs have long been influenced by politics, local and global. These days, his concerns move quickly from California’s drought to climate change, to its inexplicable deniers, to the threat to humanity that greedy forces are bringing about.
“‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper,’ he said quoting T. S. Eliot. “And we think we’re seeing the effects, but there are places like large chunks of Asia, Africa and South America where people are really feeling it.”
This kind of thinking is why Cockburn believes his “50th Anniversary Concert, Second Attempt” is selling more tickets in liberal Berkeley than in conservative Grass Valley.
The singer-songwriter spent many a lockdown day inside, angrily composing new quasi-protest songs like “Orders” and “Us All.” He has now amassed music enough for a full album, which will follow last year’s “Greatest Hits (1970-2020)” and 2019’s all-instrumental experiment “Crowing Ignites.” His seasonal “Christmas” set from 1993 is also resurfacing this month.
“In Canada, where most of my record sales are, it’s platinum. So that kind of means that everyone’s got one already,” he said. “It holds a special place in people’s hearts — I hear from fans all the time about how they pull that album out every Christmas and play it in their family homes, and I’m really happy about that.”
On early hits like ’84’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and ’91’s “Lovers In a Dangerous Time,” Cockburn’s singing voice was flintier, more pugnacious. But at 76, it’s mellowed into a warm, professorial rasp that befits both his politically informed lyrics and his elder statesman status.
As he’s been sifting through his career material, he’s been introducing his 10-year-old daughter to his classics like 2002’s “Inner City Front,” while unearthing obscurities that he hasn’t performed in years.
And he didn’t bury the lede in the “Second Attempt” tour title, he said, “Because there was no first! We had all these shows booked for 2020 — a lot of shows — but they all were canceled. So this is a kind of tentative, baby-step version of getting back into it again. We’re hoping that all these gigs are going to happen.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Thursday & Friday, Dec. 9 & 10
Tickets: $42 to $46, + fees
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org