Wednesday, June 04, 2008
What can be said about Leonard Cohen returning to the stage after an abscence of 14+ years? Prior to his East Coast debut on May 11th of this year in Fredericton, the last time he'd graced a concert stage was July of 1993 in Victoria BC.
The big white elephant in the room...well, actually it wasn't because everyone was talking about it, was can the old man still do it?
Well, i hope to put that stuff to rest as fast as Leonard did.
Short answer is YES.
The long answer is much more complicated.
Age is a primary component of this tour. It was the source of pre-tour speculation about the potential quality of the performance. When the scope of the first leg of the tour was announced (over 50 shows in 3 months with THREE ocean crossings)As the tour rolls out these are being put to rest. Early looks at the show via YouTube postings have been beyond encouraging. All accounts have the audiences heaping a palpable amount of reverence on Leonard. Reviews have said it's like a religious experience. Men have been seen weeping. Menopausal women are reporting a rise in libido. The price of oil is plummeting...er, ok, but you get my point, eh? It's all too much and it's just right.
The heartfelt response is genuine. It wasn't created by the star-making machinery. Concert reviewers say Leonard is visibly humbled by the adulation.
Having said that, a good part of the global dementia that has taken over his fans is due to...dare I say it, age. The age of the artist. The age of the patrons. The Age of Man. All these elements converge to make this the perfect show for the present.
And it's not like Leonard's unaware either. He knows he's been gone and the world has turned. His stage patter references this: "It's been so long since I've been on the stage...the last time I was here I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream..." audience laughs. He follows with a litany of the drugs he's been prescribed, to get him through his crazy dreams; "...Paxil, Welbutrin... Prozac... Ritalin...how have you been?" (more uproarious laughter). In Hamilton a MILF-wannabe yells out "VIAGRA" which causes Leonard to stumble and giggle before he adds this final observation in his preamble to "Ain't No Cure For Love"; "And I also studied all of the religions and the philosophies but cheerfulness kept breaking through..."
In Moncton, while introducing his translation of Federico Garcia Lorca's Viennese Waltz, renamed Take This Waltz, he recounts the same story used in the '90s about finding a book of poetry in a used bookstore and reading the words: "I want to pass through the arch of Elvira, to see her thighs and begin weeping" He says from that moment on that's what he wanted to do. "Where was that arch?" he asks, giggling. He also notes that he feels differently about thighs now and cries for a different reason.
He also knows that while on the surface nothing is the same, underneath nothing has changed. While to some the world is as it's never been, to others it's as it always was. It's as if when he left in '93 he was telling us what we needed to know about what was coming. And now, he's here to say not so much "I told you so" as "I told you it would be so."
And it's not like the audience is unaware. The contemplative songs are met with a wall of silent appreciation. Appreciation for the song and the moment.
Interspersed through the set are a few lively dance songs, sometimes country, sometimes rock and you can almost feel the mood shift from one of studious
attentiveness to the unbridled excitement of the sock hop...from the library to the gym.
The salacious songs are greeted with loud cheers; cheering both the memory of the fire and the lingering desire for life and love that burns still. During the Moncton rendition of I'm Your Man, each declaration of love without limits was met with howls of appreciation from the audience (mostly female exhultations). The line "if you need a doctor i'll examine every inch of you", elicited an almost orgasmic response from one patron.
From the stage each evening Leonard takes the opportunity to thank the fans for keeping his songs alive. The songs themselves are timeless and need no help
enduring. This tour feels like it follows the last by mere months rather than years. It's the subjects of the songs that make them timeless; the ongoing battle in each of us between the mind, the soul and the body; the ego, the superego and the id; the good, the bad and the ugly...a Holy Trinity of Holy Trinities. There is a war and it's further complicated by the addition of passion; a passion for love or hate, for power or freedom, for hanging on or letting go.
The mind vs the soul vs the body. The dynamics of that war changes throughout our lives but the battle never ceases. This tour gives us a chance to put that life-long fight in context. The songs have new meaning when you add a couple decades to them, when they've had time to, ummm, age.
The set lists have been pretty static but the show, as it's built, really leaves very little to be desired. No artist with a 40 year catalogue can do everything. No fan can be dismayed at what they do get. As the tour left the East Coast for a two day stop in rural Quebec, Leonard added a minor twist by including "Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye" for the first time on tour. The monday night show in Kitchener saw the first outing for "Waiting for the Miracle". More reports from the field hint that another half-dozen songs are being readied...among them the very rare, Passing Through.
Day of show sees us busy with afternoon doctors appointments (that likely applies to about 38% of Leonards audience, so we're well within the norm). We met a couple friends from Toronto for some pre-show drinks and chat at a bar close to the venue and found ourselves comfortably seated at quarter of eight. This small hall fills quickly and with every seat taken the lights dim a couple minutes after 8; out stroll 9 musicians and some old guy in a hat. The old guy's got game.
Don't have much to give you on the musicians and back up singers...they are professionals, the music is lush, the sound is heavenly. Of course, if Leonard weren't on the stage we wouldn't be talking about them either.
Cohen moves with caution, like a man who knows that there's no time left for recovery. He stands, mic in hand, bent at the hip, pouring his emotion into each line. There's no caution in his voice. The audience in Hamilton wasn't hypnotized but they were attentive. Except for a bad case of whooping cough that affected the row behind me there were no distractions during the songs and appropriate responses at all the right times. Leonard plays the audience like it was an instrument...same way he plays his women, apparently. His skills have not diminished.
So what can be said about Leonard's return to the stage?
Nothing that will do it justice.
Here's some sound samples from last night, followed by the complete set list.
(just right click and save)
t01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
t02 The Future
t04 Ain't No Cure For Love
t05 Bird on the Wire
t06 Everybody Knows
t07 In My Secret Life
t08 Who By Fire
t09 Anthem (w/ Band Intro)
t10 Tower of Song
t12 Gypsy Wife
t13 Boogie Street
t16 I'm Your Man
t17 A Thousand Kisses Deep
t18 Take This Waltz
t19 Heart With No Companion
t20 Waiting For The Miracle To Come
t21 First We Take Manhattan
t22 That Don't Make It Junk * static was on inhouse PA *
t23 If It Be Your Will
t24 Closing Time
t25 I Tried To Leave You
source:Church Audio Cardioids>CA STC-9000 Pre-Amp >Edirol R-09 at 24/48 >USB >Sonic Foundry 16bitwave> FlacFrontend
recorded by Krewe Chief