A question I asked myself as I headed to see Leonard Cohen in concert in Katowice, Poland was can perfection be beaten? Having witnessed the most amazing concert of my life when he played Lissadell House in Sligo earlier this year I did wonder how or if this concert could compare. While I don’t think the Lissadell House gig will ever be topped this concert came very close for a number of special reasons.
I only decided to go to this concert after that amazing night in Sligo so when I went to purchase my ticket my choices were limited. I had the option of a cheap downstairs ticket at the rear of the venue of the top level price in the front row of the balcony. I decided to buy the balcony ticket as at least I’d have a clear view of the stage. However fate was looking down on me as I’d only just taken my seat when some fellow fans that I had met before the concert presented me with a spare ticket for the forth row from the front!Such was my excitement for this concert for once I didn’t notice the starting times or finishing times of either half though I do know that Cohen and his fantastic band delivered to us over 3.5 hours of excellence as is per usual. Having being at Lissadell House and having watched numerous videos of this tour on You Tube I was aware of most of the songs to expect and when we would be treated to them. While in some intances this can be an irritant in this case it only heightened my excitement as I listened to each fantastic song after another knowing that more favourites awaited me.
Cohen and his band started with Dance me to the end of Love with other early songs including The Future and a wonderful performance of one of my favourites Bird on the Wire. The arrangement on this song is so different to the original but is beautiful and so relaxing to listen to.
Also performed in this first half were two of the new song The Darkness and Born in Chains. Although both of these are excellent songs the later would be my preference. This song only premiered on the tour in July but it is fast becoming a fan favourite.
Every song sounded amazing and the solos provided by various band members were sublime and we wanted each song to go on and on. At many moments during the concert I felt my eyes well up at the beauty of it all. It should be noted while us avid fans did miss Sharon Robinson who is absent while she recovers from being ill, The Webb Sisters did an excellent job in her absence where their vocals were impeccable.
In what felt like no time at all Cohen was introducing the band and we were at the intermission. While we moved to the front to chat and relax I had the pleasure of shaking hands with The Webb Sisters father Graham Webb.
It was then time for the second half of the concert. I absolutely love the second half of Cohen concerts as my two favourite songs Hallelujah and So Long Marianne are performed during this half. Hallelujah will always be my concert highlight but it had stiff competition for what was to come in this second half.
Opening the second half with the excellent Tower of Song Cohen looked very relaxed and happy to be performing for us. This was followed by the imensely popular Suzanne which up until recently was the most covered of all Cohen songs. It has being well overtaken in recent years by Hallelujah where most of these covers in my opinon should be consigned to the garbage bin as these people are not fit to sing what is in my opinion the greatest song ever written.
When Cohen left the stage at the end of Take this Waltz while the band finished the music to the song a group of us fans moved to the gangway leading to the stage. After the concert at Lissadell I felt compelled to thank Cohen in some way. I decided to get a huge Ireland flag and on it I wrote the message “Thank you Leonard and co for the magic and memories of Lissadell” in big black writing. At this moment I held up the flag for the band to see. It gave me a warm feeling to see them notice it and smile and point it out to each other. Once the music stopped we raced to the stage for So Long Marianne as this song is traditionally the most upbeat song at a Cohen concert. I draped my flag across the barrier in front of where Cohen would be and when he came back on stage he read it and a smile lit up his face. That moment will live in my heart forever and it made any anxieties I had about travelling alone to a foreign land to see him completely worth it.
It was an amazing feeling listening to So Long Marianne after this. Normally at Cohen concerts everyone sings along to this but the crowd here were somewhat reserved! I personally did sing along though and a few songs later I was singing along to Closing Time where Cohen noticed and smiled.
Personal satisfaction aside there were many highlights for everyone at this concert. I noticed many happy faces when Cohen performed Avalanche as he doesn’t perform this live very often. Other highlights included a stunning performance of Feels so Good the third of the new songs performed and possibly the best rendition I’ve seen of this song sofar. The ever brilliant Famous Blue Raincoat also must be mentioned along with the final song of the night Hey That’s no way to say Goodbye. Typical Cohen to end on an ironic song like this. I was very happy though as it is amongst my favourites and he doesn’t always perform it.
One of the many aspects that makes a Cohen concert so special is the wonderful band he has with him. We were treated to spectacular solos throughout including wind instruments from the super talented Dino Soldo and string solos from the legendary Javier Mas. In the words of Cohen himself The Webb Sisters are “angels fallen from heaven” and his musical director Roscoe Beck is the”pilgrim of perfection. Neil Larsen always brings tears to my eyes during his piano solo during Hallelujah. For Cohen to have long time friend Bob Metzger perform with himand with “master timekeeper” Raphael Bernardo Gayol keeping the beat it makes for a perfect combination and the respect between everyone on stage makes for a very special atmosphere which in all the concerts I attend I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Unfortunately for the fans this tour ends in December but Cohen himself promised a fan that he will be back. We live in hope that this does come to pass. He is due to head into studio to record his next studio album and if the songs premiered on this tour are an indicator of what is to come it is safe to say that over 40 years since his first album Cohen is still on top of his game when it comes to writing great music.