Bruce Cockburn Plays First Concert In Japan For 26 Years

Photo by Masanori Naruse
Bruce Cockburn performs at Billboard Live in Tokyo.

Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn returned to Japan after 26 years to play a two-day, four-set engagement at Billboard Live in Tokyo on September 29 and 30. The guitarist and singer has long been connected to the country for songs he wrote in Japan when he visited in the 1970s.

Cockburn has been on a year-long tour supporting his 2017 album release Bone on Bone. The shows have seen him perform both with a band, and solo as he was in Tokyo. 

Cockburn’s last appearance in Japan was 1992 when he was supposed to play and a huge Amnesty International benefit concert headlined by Neil Young. But due to illness, Young had to withdraw and the event was cancelled. Since Cockburn was already in Japan he played for the public at Tokyo FM Hall and an industry-only event at Canadian Embassy. Before that Cockburn had performed in Japan in the 1970s.

Japanese fans were clearly ecstatic that Cockburn was finally returning to perform live in the nation. All the shows played to enthusiastic packed houses. This is especially notable for the sets on Sept. 30 as Typhoon Trami was bearing down on Tokyo and many train lines were stopped. The streets were nearly deserted but you wouldn’t have known it from the full seats at Billboard Live. Cockburn performed on a steel string acoustic, a steel-bodied Dobro resonator guitar and a charango, a stringed, Andean folk instrument smaller than a ukulele. 

The sets were a liberal mix of new songs and Cockburn classics, including “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “Peggy's Kitchen Wall.” After performing “Tokyo,” Cockburn told the audience “I wrote that song almost exactly 40 years ago… and I’m still here.” Paying homage to his bilingual Canadian roots, Cockburn performed the French track “Mon Chemin” and warned the audience that they might be baffled if they tried to decipher it as English.

Cockburn concluded the final set with one of his political tracks, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” about the killing of innocent civilians from the air in Latin America, and the U.S. radio hit “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. He came out for an encore of “All The Diamonds In The World” from his 1974 release Salt, Sun and Time.

Billboard Live, in the Roppongi district’s Midtown complex, is well known for bringing renowned acts with long careers to play in its relatively intimate setting. 

Cockburn will continue the tour through February 2019 with nine more dates in the U.S. and seven in Europe.

Bruce Cockburn at Billboard Live Tokyo, 2nd set, Sept 30
1. After the Rain
2. Last Night of the World
3. States I’m In
4. Lovers In A Dangerous Time
5. Tokyo
6. Cafe Society
7. Peggy's Kitchen Wall
8. Bohemian 3-Step (Instrumental)
9. Mon Chemin 
10. If I Had a Rocket Launcher
11. Wondering Where the Lions Are
 Encore. All The Diamonds In The World