Review: Leonard Cohen, New York April 6th and 7th 2013

After fulfilling a dream of seeing Leonard Cohen in his home town of Montreal last year next on the wish list was New York and Manhattan. While New York was on the list of locations last year I was unable to go so it was great when it appeared again this year and it didn’t take very long to decide to go. There are so many New York connections in Cohen’s songs and hearing the likes of First We Take Manhattan and Famous Blue Raincoat being performed in the city they referenced was something I was really looking forward to.

Heading into the Radio City Music Hall last Saturday I was very excited knowing I had two nights of Cohen and company live ahead of me. With the exception of the addition of I Tried To Leave You for the second concert the set lists for the two concerts were identical. However as I have often stated before Cohen could perform the same songs every night and I would still enjoy and relish the experience each and every time. For the Saturday concert while close to the front our seats were out to the side which meant we couldn’t see Mitch Watkins at all and only caught glimpses of Alexandru Bublitchi when he stood for his solos. However for the second concert we were in the centre so I could see all the band members and enjoy all their solos.

From the traditional opener of Dance Me To The End Of Love each night Cohen and company were in top form and it was good to see all the band looking happy and healthy given their recent flu and I was especially delighted to see Roscoe Beck looking well after him having to leave a concert early and miss one due to exhaustion.

Cohen has taken to making interesting introductions to Ain’t No Cure For Love and Anyhow on this tour and I love them both. The intro to Ain’t No Cure For Love is always variations of him looking in the mirror in his hotel room and telling himself to get a grip and when will he ever learn there ain’t no cure for love. His New York description included him describing the mirror as the ones found in hotel bathrooms which enlarge the face and how the one in his hotel there had bright lights and that people over the age of eleven should never look in mirrors. Anyhow is introduced with Cohen speaking about when he is 80 he is going to take up smoking again and he describes how a nurse, will bring out a tray with an open box of cigarettes on it and that the cigarettes will look like gleaming tiny Parthenon’s and he will ask the nurse to tap out the bubbles from the IV. During Sunday’s concert he extended this to include that the nurse could be male or female. I always love seeing Cohen and company smiling and enjoying themselves on stage. Another funny moment in both concerts was his antics during Tower Of Song. Cohen uses a keyboard for this song and soon into the song when the crowd are cheering he stops singing and looks into the crowd asking are we humouring him. He then proceeds to show us what else he can do with the keyboard and includes running his elbow along the keys.

As always I had many musical highlights with Hallelujah my usual favourite moments. I will never get tired watching Cohen perform this song. He sings this song with such an intensity that makes us forget the many covers and claims the song back as his own. First We Take Manhattan got a great reception on both nights with the audience clapping to the beat as soon as the band started playing the intro. It is the most up tempo song on the set list and the atmosphere was electric. I noticed during Democracy on the second night Cohen stood back for some of the choruses and let his backing singers sing while he danced and enjoyed the atmosphere. Having only witnessed Show Me The Place live once last year I was pleased to hear it both times in New York. I also loved hearing So Long Marianne although I have to confess I do prefer it here in Europe where we can stand at the front for the encores.  However I still love hearing the song at every concert. Listening to Famous Blue Raincoat in New York was amazing even though we never actually made it to Clinton Street! The one song I would loved to have heard but didn’t was Chelsea Hotel #2 given we were in New York but Cohen choose not to sing it. However having both First We Take Manhattan and Famous Blue Raincoat in the set list was great.

I felt while the crowd was good both nights that the second night had the edge. Every time a band member had a solo piece the crowd respectively clapped when the solo ended and it always gives me a warm feeling when I am part of a great audience and Cohen and company deserve the best in return for giving us their best each and every night. While all the band did receive a great reception it was Sharon Robinson’s rendition of Alexandra Leaving which got the greatest cheer and indeed a standing ovation. The Webb Sisters also got a load cheer for If It Be Your Will. While I’m prone to tears at any time at a Cohen concert the one song that never fails to have them streaming down my face is If It Be Your Will and New York was no exception here. The more I hear Alexandru Bublitchi on the violin the more I enjoy his contributions to Cohen’s songs. He adds a beauty to the songs and most especially in Dance Me To The End Of Love and Take This Waltz. It must also be noted how beautiful the contribution by Hattie Webb singing duet on Take This Waltz sounds. A real crowd pleaser and something I always look forward to is Javier Mas’ introduction to Who By Fire on the bandurria with Roscoe Beck joining on the stand up bass and Charley Webb on clarinet. I love Mitch Watkins solo on lead guitar on Bird On The Wire, This is one of my favourite Cohen songs and I’ve felt in shows in Canada last year and again in New York that Cohen is singing it with even more intensity than before. I’d always loved the song and always felt it was perfect but Cohen demonstrates that he can always improve on his songs and take them to a new level we didn’t even know existed.

Other highlights included Cohen’s recitation of A Thousand Kisses Deep. I adore this poem and it is always a real treat to hear Cohen recite it live. Neil Larsen’s organ playing is always beautiful and especially on the aforementioned Hallelujah and while Rafael Gayol seldom has solos his contribution is immense and I love watching him on the drums being the drummer in the quietest rock and roll band in the world. He did have a solo in I Tried To Leave You and everyone cheered when he threw his drumstick in the air and caught it. This was at the end of the second of two wonderful nights of which Cohen and his band well and truly took Manhattan!

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.