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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