Leonard Cohen Kilmainham Concerts Review

When it was announced that the legendary Leonard Cohen would be gracing the stage in Kilmainham once again I was very excited as I had missed his first series of concerts in the venue in 2008. It was those concerts which had convinced Leonard that there was still an audience for his songs, so for him to be returning there was something I was going to cherish, and it was an easy quick decision to go to all four concerts. I’d made a personal vow after having to miss the 2nd concert in Lissadell in 2010 that I would never miss a concert by Leonard in Ireland again.

I am often asked how can I go to multiple concerts of the same artist but for me each of Leonard’s concerts are unique and every Leonard concert is special so I just knew I’d enjoy each and every minute of these four concerts. A lot has happened on my Cohen journey since that night in Lissadell including meeting him in Las Vegas and Ghent, so to witness the magic in my own country again was something I really relished.

Heading into the first concert on Tuesday night I was very impressed with the organisers for having a an archway for us to walk through with the words “Everybody Knows That The Dice Are Loaded” written on it with Leonard’s name and unified hearts at either end. Only in Ireland would we get a welcome like that! In fact I was impressed with the layout of the venue with nice placements of coloured flags and two huge hangings either side of the stage welcoming Leonard, one with the immortal line from Anthem “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” and the other a line from the Book of Longing, ” You go your way, I’ll go your way too”.

Every night has its own individual highlights and for me it kept getting better and better as the week went on. Tuesday was special for being the first night.  I don’t think any song would ever surpass Hallelujah as a personal favourite moment at a Leonard concert and I’ll never tire of watching Leonard sing this song live and every night last week it was as sublime as ever. On the first night my other personal highlights included Light As The Breeze which we also heard the following night. So Long Marianne is always a highlight as I love the sing-a-long and adoration from the audience for Leonard. It is plain to see everyone on the stage also enjoys this song live. Famous Blue Raincoat and Bird On The Wire are also personal favourites as in the afore-mentioned Anthem where Leonard introduces each band member in turn. It is something I never tire of hearing and I got amused looks from my neighbours on the final night when I was mouthing the words as Leonard spoke them.

A slight irritant during the first night was the constant flow of people walking up to the stage to try to take photos and while I do try to let nothing distract me from the magic on stage it was hard to block this out because my seat was beside the aisle, and it was blocking my line of vision. However I did find it funny when during Take This Waltz the stewards were trying to remove people and the then started waltzing with the stewards!

Night two had a different feel for me and my seats were now for the remaining concerts in the centre block so no flow of people constantly blocking the view! I was also further back the second night but this allowed me to witness a gorgeous sunset, and also see the stars while I listened to the magic on stage. The set list remained almost the same with the exception of the inclusion of The Webb Sisters singing If It Be Your Will and exclusion of I Can’t Forget. However as I stated no two Leonard concerts are ever the same for me, and he could sing the same songs every night and I’d still be happy. Of course it is great to hear different songs performed and I do have favourites I’ve never heard him sing, however when every song every night is performed to perfection I find that I am never in a position to complain about what songs are performed!

Before the concert at sound check I and some friends spoke with Leonard before he went in to do the sound check so I was feeling a lot more emotional on this night than I was on the first. Sisters of Mercy was the first song to bring the tears as I love the line “If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.” Leonard sang this song every night in Dublin which pleased me as it isn’t one he always sings. It was a beautiful moment for me when during Night Comes On there were stars above us. This is another of my favourites and I am pleased to see that it is becoming a regular at the concerts now as it was only performed once on the previous tour.

While I mention many times how brilliant Leonard is I must state that compliment is extended to everyone on stage. I am loving the addition of Alexandru Bublitchi to the band. The violin is an instrument that really compliments Leonard’s songs. Mitch Watkins as lead guitarist is excellent and Javier Mas is always sublime on his solos on Who By Fire and the Gypsy’s Wife. I adore The Webb Sisters singing If It Be Your Will and it almost always has me in floods of tears and I am really enjoying hearing them perform Coming Back To You on this tour. It is a lovely touch having the bass player Roscoe Beck stand behind them with the upright bass for this song. As the musical director for Leonard’s concert he is normally positioned to the right of Leonard where Leonard will notify him of any song changes and he then spreads the word. Neil Larsen as always was amazing on his solos during Hallelujah and I love that on this tour Leonard brings the entire band to the centre of the stage for The Partisan and we see Neil playing the accordion.

As usual for the encores we all raced to the stage but we couldn’t enter the front row, because in attendance was our President Michael D Higgins. I’ve always being a huge admirer and had met him on the campaign trail for the presidency. I have to say I did find it amusing thinking of him watching and listening to Leonard perform Democracy and I’m Your Man in the main part of the show. For the encores I was initially standing at the end of that section of the front row but an over enthusiastic woman beside me was banging me against the side of the chair so I asked the person at the end of the second row if he wouldn’t mind could I stand in front of him and seeing my discomfort he kindly allowed me to do so. This made for a very memorable moment for me when after First We Take Manhattan those sitting stood and the President sat first and looked along the row of seats and on seeing me started waving and smiling. I was in complete shock that he actually remembered me from a previous brief meeting at a debate during the presidential campaign. I certainly wasn’t expecting that! At the end of the concert I went and shook his hand. This made for a very special ending to the second concert for me and I spent all of Famous Blue Raincoat and If It Be Your Will in tears!

After speaking with Leonard before the second sound check and wanting other people be able to have the precious memories of a moment with him I just shook his hand on Friday and then went to find a good spot to see and hear the sound check. While a friend and I were watching through a hole in the fence the wind came along and blew the fence on top of us. We found it highly amusing that the wind gave us a lovely clear view but alas the fence was soon repaired. Having missed the sound check through losing track of time the first day and having heard Leonard had sung The Guests I was delighted when he sang it again. This song has yet to be sung on the tour or indeed any concert I’ve attended. We also heard some tour favourites but special for me was hearing Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. The last time I had heard Leonard sing this song was at the concert in Katowice in 2010. I was very happy when the song was then sung during the last two Kilmainham concerts! Also sung in the sound check on Friday was Anyhow, an interesting different version we’d never heard before.

The concert on Friday provided me with a great view of the stage in the 5th row so no more distractions from those who were there to wander around and I could concentrate fully on Leonard and the band. It was a happy occasion with many smiles coming from the stage and as always many wonderful performances. Sharon Robinson was sublime on Alexandra Leaving. The more I hear her singing this song the more I enjoy it. As Leonard always states in his band introductions Sharon has co-wrote many of his great songs including this one. She is an expert at crafting wonderful tunes to match the words of Leonard and I’ve always valued her contribution to his work. Different Sides made its first Kilmainham concert appearance as did Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye which pleased me no end. I was also pleased to hear the only performance of the week of I Tried To Leave You as in the song every band member has their own solo during this song and I love when Rafael Gayol throws his drumstick in the air before catching it. I have yet to see him drop it! He is often hidden from view from the audience behind his drums but his contribution is immense as it takes a special talent to be a drummer in a Leonard Cohen concert and I love Leonard’s description of him as the master of precision in the band introductions. We all loved when before Take This Waltz Leonard quoted something which included the line “Let my people dance” This was obviously a comment to the stewards to allow us dance in the aisles during this song as we made our way to the stage for the encores.  I’ve since discovered the origins of these words are from the song Go Down Moses which Leonard edited to suit the occasion changing the words “Let My People Go” to “Let My People Dance” It was a touching moment from Leonard to all of us which he repeated the following night.

All too soon it was the final day of Leonard’s Dublin concerts. Even though I consider every Leonard concert perfection last week each night got better and better and for me the final concert was the best but that is partly due to personal reasons. I had decided the day before I would present Leonard with two red roses before the sound check from me and my friend who was always with me when I met him but as she lives in Scotland she had to miss the final two concerts. After Leonard had spent time with other people I gave them to him thanking him for the memories of a wonderful week. During the sound check while taking photos over the fence I noticed them on the stage. I was so touched by this and was completely amazed on entering the venue that night that they were still there along with a gift of a statue of Cúchulainn from another fan. After taking a photo of it on entering the venue I went for a walk in a daze only to meet Charlie Bird, Ireland’s best known news reporter and one I’ve always had a huge respect for. I told him this mentioning documentaries he had made and he kindly posed for a photo. Other well known people in attendance during the week included Glen Hansard and Niall Stokes.

For the concert my seat was in the centre which was perfect as it allowed me get a lot of photos of Leonard performing my favourite songs with my roses in the background of them. It is hard for me to convey in words how special to me this is. My own personal delight aside this concert was amazing and for me it is a very close second favourite to that wonderful night in Lissadell. The crowd seemed a lot more respectful or maybe it was just my position but I noticed very little movement from the audience. The setlist was very similar to the previous night but given Leonard’s act of kindness I was an emotional wreck and spent most of the first half in tears. Songs like Who By Fire which I normally never shed tears for had them streaming down my face. Leonard and his band were in as usual top form and like he promises at the start of every concert he gave it everything he had.

After Leonard performs I’m Your Man he normally sings Hallelujah but on Saturday night he had a treat for us between these songs and we heard a wonderful playful version of Anyhow (different from the version sung in sound check the previous day). This was the tour premiere of this song and indeed first ever performance in concert as it is from his latest album Old Ideas. On the album one would never associate it as a song to be laughed at, but between the twinkle in Leonard’s eyes and the way he sang it we had to laugh. It made for a wonderful memory for the final concert in Ireland this year. Before singing Anyhow Leonard thanked those of us who had attended all four concerts, those who travelled long distances and the people of Dublin for their hospitality. Even though he is a world famous singer/songwriter and poet Leonard remains humble and always appreciates the applause and respect he receives.

Hallelujah following this was amazing as always and I savoured every second of hearing my favourite song live for the last time for a while. As I was in the middle of my row I had asked everyone beside me to allow me move out at the start of Take This Waltz so I could make my way to the front for the encores while we stood waiting we were told we could only stand if we were actually waltzing by one of the stewards to our amusement and of course we obliged. We then took the coveted barrier positions for the encores and for what was my favourite So Long Marianne of the week. Everyone on stage was smiling as we all were backing singers to Leonard. The final song on the night and of our magical four nights in Kilmainham was Closing Time and how special this was when Leonard invited members of his crew to join him and the band on stage at the end of the song. It was a wonderful gesture which to my knowledge hasn’t happened since the final concerts of the previous tour in Las Vegas.

And there the journey ends for now. As I reflect on what was a wonderful week I continue to remind myself how grateful I am to be on this planet at the same time as Leonard Cohen.

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19 thoughts on “Leonard Cohen Kilmainham Concerts Review

  1. Dave C says:

    Great write up Gwen. As for the question you mentioned in the second paragraph about going to multiple gigs, makes sense to me anyway, provided one is willing to spend the means and the time. If you’d enjoy an album over and over why not a concert on successive nights and no two will ever be quite the same. You’ll always remember each one distinctly as you desribed so well here. And the ones you’d miss that you felt you could have gone too would always be like splinters in your mind. Great that you’re keeping your promise.

  2. Piero says:

    Hi,
    About go to multiple gigs, I like to do only for some of the artist I like. Cohen is one of them, and I was in 2 of the Irish concerts.
    Personally, when I go to some gigs, as Leonard, I feel emotion, I love the atmosphere, I live the moment, over, and over again!
    So, for people that live that moments like me, go 2, 3, 4 times on the same artist gig is the most normal thing we can do!!!
    Just to be clear, there are only 3 artist where I’ll like to go to as many concerts I can!!!

    • Hi Pero, who are the other 2 artists? For me if money was no issue I’d follow Springsteen around the world too but a choice has to be made and for me Leonard will always be my choice.

      • Piero says:

        Hi,
        the other 2 artist for me are little different from Cohen, one is Yann Tiersen, you could know him as the guy that wrote the music for Amelie, the movie, anyway, all his music and songs are magic, and the other one is Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, I grow up with pink floyd, and I can go to his gigs over and over again (I can include David Gilmour for the same Pink Floyd life)!!!
        But honestly, since I have been for the first time to a Cohen concert, my chose is, and will be Leonard forever…. I tell this because I fell, and not because we are in a Leonard Cohen “area”!!!

  3. Mary Coyle says:

    I was at the Concert in Kilmainham on Friday Night and while I loved it I kept missing Dino Soldo and his instruments of wind. The Violin was beautiful but not as haunting as Dino Soldo who I saw play with Leonard in Lissadell. Mary Coyle

    • Hi Mary, that is a shame you miss Dino. I have to say that even though I love Dino and think he is wonderful that I do love Alex’s violin and feel it is really suited to Leonard’s songs.

  4. Franklin says:

    Nice review.

    I was there for the first 2 nights, but was a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps it was because it was so cold and I was so fed up with all the women walking around and nattering, that I didn’t bother going again. Reading your review makes me wonder if I should have gone along.

    One thing I have noted is the recent trend for Cohen’s audience to be overwhelmingly middle aged and female. This is sure some change from when I first attended his gigs in 1974 and 1976.

    Since then, I have seen Cohen in concert regularly, and have enjoyed his frequent changes of personnel, and musical style. I can’t help feeling though, that he is purely going through the motions now, playing the same concert every time in front of an homogenous, adoring clientele. I wish he could feel the freedom to change, and perhaps take a risk. I do understand, however, that his financial situation did necessitate him assessing his potential market value, and making a “sensible” business decision. However, I am disappointed that, having toured extensively for the last several years, cut a new disc, and being the beneficiary of numerous merchandising efforts, Cohen hasn’t relaxed his regime.

    I often wonder, what would the old Cohen I knew back in the day, think of his new, “safe”, “corporate” self?

    • Well I am a woman in my thirties and I love Leonard so it isn’t all middle aged women! I wasn’t around in the early years obviously but I have a huge number of friends, male as well as female who have followed him since that time so it is inevitable that a huge portion of the audience is of the older generations. It is a shame you felt underwhelmed. I have to say though I don’t think he is going through the motions as he couldn’t consistantly perform to such a high level if he was. You may beg to differ but I read the official press reviews from the concerts and they are normally music journalists who say it like it is, not someone like me who adores him and would go to every concert if I had the money. What kind of a risk are you looking for? He is doing songs from the new album which is my opinion is up there with his greatest work. I genuinely do believe Leonard is doing this because he wants to and doing it the way he wants to. He has changed the sound on this tour from the previous tour and spent a long time in rehearshals. This isn’t the act of someone doing it for the sake of it or for the money.

  5. Franklin says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Cohen. I have spent time and quite some money on him gladly, and spent some memorable time in his company.

    I found your blog through DrHGuy, another Cohen fan.

    I think, though, that critical analysis of his oeuvre is part of the deal. There ‘aint any joy in solely trying to outdo each other in saying how great he is/was.

    I agree, and recognise, that he gives great value for money in relation to his lengthy concerts. I can’t comment on the duration of his soundchecks, as I don’t attend them.

    I read somewhere that Cohen introduced a cover version of a Drifters song into a concert recently. Some of the message boards bristled with shock, because the guy does a cover? This is what I mean by playing safe. He should be encouraged to expand the horizon a little bit. No, make that a lot.

    Cohen at his best was a radical, like Updike and Roth. I would like that side of him back, even if only for a while. I just find it difficult to accept him as a comfy, Andy Williams pastiche.

    Heck, maybe I am just getting old.

    • Barbara says:

      Yes! He did, in Wembley Arena on Saturday the 8th of September, he sang as his final song ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ by The Drifters which was brilliant, although I missed Whither Thou Goest.

      It took more than usual to satisfy the Wembley crowd that night as we had been expecting an open air concert at The Hop Farm in Kent and many of us were quite seriously inconvenienced by the late change in venue, and out of pocket, but Leonard was wonderfully apologetic and the concert was magical. I wouldn’t have gone to a second night at that venue, but had it been the O2 I would have wished I could afford it.

      I can not afford more than one or two concerts a year, so have to savour the ones I do see, like a delicious bar of chocolate, remembering the experience & reliving it through my photos, videos posted on you tube, and the images in my head.

      I was glad he had changed the set list from the 2008-10 concerts, but so thrilled he kept Famous Blue Raincoat, my favourite ever song

      And as for Sharon Robertson’s Alexandra Leaving…. wow! That renditon had me in tears, wonderful

      • I’ve never heard him do Whither Thou Ghost but have of course got the Live In London CD and DVD. I am lucky that things have worked out that this year I can go to mutiple concerts. I’d go to them all if I had the money and the venue wouldn’t bother me, just to be able to witness the magic suffices for me. It is always good to hear different songs performed and I am loving the addition of Light As The Breeze. Yes Sharon is sublime on Alexandra Leaving. Lucky you went to the first Wembley concert as he dropped FBR for the 2nd one. It is also amongst my favourites but Hallelujah is my favourite followed by So Long Marianne and Bird On The Wire 🙂

      • Barbara says:

        I also love Hallelujah 🙂 We sang it at our wedding! So glad the priest could see the beauty & worship & love in the song. None of us singing along did it any justice, but it was wonderful just the same

        The only cover of it that I like is Rufus Wainwright’s, because his voice is so beautiful. I am dying to hear the voice & poetry of his & Lorca’s baby!

      • Wow, I never heard of anyone singing or even having Hallalujah played at their wedding before! It was Jeff Buckley’s cover which introduced me to Leonard so I do like it but since I started listening to Leonard singing the song I can’t listen to anyone else. However I might be going to see Rufas Wainwright in concert in November so I’ll hear him sing it then!

      • Barbara says:

        It is one of our all time favourite songs, and has been for a very long time 🙂

      • Mary Coyle says:

        Did Rufus marry Leonard Cohen’s daughter Lorca???

      • No he didn’t. They have a child Viva together. I’m not going to go into the details here. Google it and you will know why.

      • Barbara says:

        No, Rufus is gay & in a civil partnership with his boyfriend. They wanted a baby so Lorca agreed to be the mum. Not sure of the logistics but according to Wikipaedia

        “In 2011, Wainwright announced that he and Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca Cohen, had had a child. He announced on his website: “Darling daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen was born on February 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California to proud parents Lorca Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, and Deputy Dad Jorn Weisbrodt. The little angel is evidently healthy, presumably happy, and certainly very very beautiful.”

  6. I guess I get a little defensive of Leonard at times (Ok all the time). The Drifters song wasn’t just a cover for the sake of it but had meaning behind it. I admit I was shocked to see him sing a cover too but when I checked the history of the song it made sense. Maybe you are right and he is playing it safe but for me personally it works. However that doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with me!

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