On Leonard Cohen

Last night I was treated to a ticket by my cousin to see Leonard Cohen. I accompanied her husband, Peanut’s Manny, to the show at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Not renowned for its acoustics, I was genuinely surprised to find the music crystal clear for the whole concert. In fact, short of seeing the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Hamer Hall a few years ago, I’ve never heard a concert with such clarity and tone.

Get me talking about tone, like I know what I’m talking about. All I know is what I can hear, and last night was so good I don’t have enough superlatives to tell you, so you’ll have to take it as read as being awesome.

The concert was due to start at 8pm sharp, but started late because people were late arriving. A few people can sneak in late, but not lots. It reminded me of Ken Dodd berating a member of the audience for being late, “I was f***ing here on time, why weren’t you?” it annoys me intensely. I know that circumstances beyond your control can sometimes delay people getting there on time, but turning up to a performance late is rude. Particularly when you had time to buy refreshments. I can feel a soap box being lined up behind me, so we’ll leave it there.

But here’s another soap box. People taking pictures on their cameras, phones and tablets, the screens are backlit now, so all over the auditorium, people were taking pictures and disturbing everyone else around them. Now before I get too high and mighty, yes I tried to take a couple of pictures, when I realised after 4 goes that they weren’t coming out clearly and weren’t working, I put my camera away. I took a couple of videos at the end, so I could hopefully capture the sound quality, but I hid the screen and kept it in my lap, I didn’t hold it up, trying to minimise interruptions for those around me.

Manny and I were sitting on the third and fourth seats in from the aisle. Next to him on the second seat was a Leonard Cohen fan, he was singing along, clapping his hands and having a great time. His wife in the first seat? Was asleep. In a concert. How do you manage that? In front of them was another couple of an age so obvious as to be labelled ‘certain’, she was busily taking pictures. So busily taking pictures in the first song, she’d twisted in her seat to take a picture of the screen, as her camera wasn’t picking up the stage. As she took a photo, someone was walking up the stairs to his seat. The surprised look on his face as the flash went off, captured forever. I got the giggles. Then couldn’t stop laughing as she kept trying to take pictures, not realising if she took the flash off, the camera may have had a fighting chance to get the image on the big screens. She was getting crosser and crosser, I was shaking laughing and trying not to. The poor man next to me must have been wondering what the hell was up with me.

I then got the giggles at Chelsea Hotel #2. Which is one of my favourite songs of his anyway, the words and meaning are filthy, but very cleverly done. This line and the way he delivered it with pure comedic timing was fabulously funny:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception

The band of musicians he’d assembled to play with were nothing short of extraordinary. It was humbling to see them playing songs that were so familiar to thousands, but with verve and brio, there are no other words for it. All of them were given time to let their instruments shine, including the backing singers, each given a song for them to interpret, literally show-casing their talents. The instrumental riffs took the main theme of the songs, and then expanded upon them. The violinist in particular for me was incredible, I said to Manny “I’m a little bit in love with him” he was from Moldova, the drummer from Mexico, a Spanish guitarist, two backing singers were from the UK, forming part of a truly eclectic mix, but simply chosen for their talents. None of them had music in front of them, Mr Cohen didn’t have a screen in front of him with the words scrolling past either, which is more than can be said for Billy Joel.

Mr Cohen also deconstructed some songs over the evening, sometimes introducing them by reciting the first couple of lines, on one occasion simply speaking the song lyrics, in a single spotlight. The emotion in his voice raising the hairs on my arms. I was too busy enjoying myself to take note of everything he’d played, here is a set list with videos of the songs played. But not many singers or songwriters can hold an audience rapt for the best part of three hours, take four curtain calls and get a standing ovation at the interval. It was one of the best concerts I’d ever been to, full stop. But also one of the best shows I’ve been to. His band are smartly dressed, keeping in tune (pun intended) with the hat and the suit Leonard Cohen trademark, playing their hearts out, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Like Jools Holland, when the people on stage are having fun, it shows and you run with them, safe that they’re going to take care of you. The only low point was the almost perfunctory performance of Hallelujah – he acknowledged the applause, but almost immediately started another song, which was odd as for other songs he let the applause die-down naturally. One of the longest applauses was for Sharon Robinson singing Alexandra Leaving, which had the whole auditorium silenced.

I hope you can tell I had a good time last night? I’m a bit tired today, I didn’t get home till nearly 1am, and was still buzzing, so I’m running on empty a little today. But will have an early night tonight to make up for it. Sometimes, lack of sleep is worth it to hang on to memories like those I made last night. The last time I watched a Leonard Cohen concert, (on DVD) I was six months pregnant with Peanut. He was going crazy in my tummy, probably due to the low register of his voice, but even now, he still likes him. I’m glad, I know I will have to deal with people like Justin Bieber et al soon enough, but for now, Peanut is happy with the music Hubs and I play for him. I can tell, he’s going to be listening to a fair bit of Leonard Cohen over the coming weeks.

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