My Robin on the Wire

While I have always loved birds, and especially robins it is only in the last couple of months that I started photographing them everyday. While I got some lovely photo, the one I really wanted was one on a wire in honour of Leonard’s Bird on the Wire. A couple of days ago one obliged for the first time but it was too dark to get a decent photo. He must have read my mind though, because today he landed on the wire loads of times so I finally got the photo I wanted.

I’ve also started drawing in the last few days so decided to draw this photo. I have a lot to learn when it comes to drawing and I hope with time I can improve!

Here is the photo and the attempt at drawing it.

Leonard always inspires me and I see reminders of his work in everything I do.

Bird on the Wire-horz

Photo and drawing by Gwen Langford

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Concert Review: Dublin O2 September 11th and 12th 2013

When the European tour for this year was initially announced Ireland wasn’t on the list and while I was disappointed I was grateful for all the concerts we’ve had here, and had of course the New York and Brussels concerts to look forward too. To say I was ecstatic when Dublin was then announced is an understatement. To have Leonard returning to the venue where I first saw him in concert was something I really relished and after freezing in Kilmainham last year, and as much as I love outdoor concerts it was a relief to know we’d have no incremental weather to disturb us!

I was very excited and a little sad knowing that concerts were the last I will attending this year. I had gotten used to in the last year of having the knowledge of future concerts to look forward to, such is how spoilt we have been by the tour over the last year.

Like in 2009 the lighting director Ryan Murphy bathed the background of the stage in the colours of the Irish flag for us to see as we were coming into the venue. I’ve no knowledge of seeing this anywhere else. That isn’t to say it doesn’t be done at other venues, just that in all the concerts I’ve attended I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

After taking our seats in the fifth row dead centre we awaiting Leonard and his wonderful band to take the stage and when they did it was a great reception from the delighted Irish, and travelling fans, of whom there were many in attendance, from all over the world.

As always Leonard opened with Dance Me To The End Of Love. The set list for the first half of the concert is mostly the same these days so we always have a fairly good idea what is coming next. This never takes away from the excitement for me as I could witness these songs live a thousand times and never bore of them.

After Dance Me To The End Of Love Leonard thanked us all for coming, thanking those in the high seats for climbing up there and those of us at the front for breaking our household budgets in these tough economic times. While the concert tickets are expensive I personally think Leonard is worth every cent as his concerts are longer than nearly everyone except Bruce Springsteen but Leonard has been know to do even longer concerts than Springsteen on occasion and indeed the second Dublin concert was longer than the one Springsteen concert I was at earlier this year. It must not be forgotten that for a man of his age, Leonard will be 79 next week this is a very impressive statistic. Not only are the concerts long they are performed to perfection, and Leonard always gives us as he promises at the start of his concerts everything that he has got. There are no songs I’d call fillers and Leonard is never going through the motions.

I’ve often stated in the past it is hard to pick favourite moments from Leonard’s concerts because everything is performed very well but thinking back to Wednesday night moments from the first half that stand out include Javier Mas introductions to Who By Fire and The Gypsy’s Wife. He is a musical genius on any of the stringed instruments he plays and it is mesmerising watching him perform and while my tired mind can’t remember which night now on one of the nights I had tears streaming down my face during Who By Fire at the beauty of it.

Before Leonard performed Darkness we heard a what is familiar introduction to us for a different song, Ain’t No Cure For Love, where Leonard speaks about looking in the mirrors in his hotel rooms with the magnifiers and how it is a bad idea to look into these after the age of eleven and that he says to him self “Lighten up Cohen” This is normally expanded to include the line that there ain’t no cure for love before beginning the actual song. On Wednesday night he just said and “Now I am going to sing a song about it”. I can’t say if this was a mistake on Leonard’s part or if Darkness was his original intention as the set list for the last few concerts had Darkness in this position but either way I love that introduction from him so was happy to hear it!

Something while rarely fails to move me to tears is anywhere in the concerts where Hattie and Charley Webb are singing and this week was no exception. Their voices are so angelic and it is no wonder Leonard refers to them as the sublime Webb Sisters and his angels. They perform the opening lines to Come Healing and it is achingly beautiful to hear.  During the encores they perform If It Be Your Will and for me it is impossible not to be in floods of tears during that performance.

Lover, Lover, Lover brought us to the end of the first half. While I do love the song and if I take this version as a stand alone and not compare it with the original version or the one performed on the previous tour it is brilliant but I do confess I do much prefer when this song is performed at a slower pace and find it much more intimate.

The second half was opened with Tower of Song which is a great opener for the second half. Leonard is very playful during this song on which he plays the keyboards. It never fails to amuse me and having a good reaction from the audience means a very happy Leonard and therefore a very happy Gwen!

It is special to hear Suzanne after this. I’ve always love this song but even more so since visiting Montreal and the location of the line “And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbour”

After Chelsea Hotel #2 we had the wonderful surprise Night Comes On. This song hasn’t being performed live in a while and it is one of my favourites from one of my favourite albums Various Positions.

Sharon Robinson was exquisite singing Alexandra Leaving. This song doesn’t normally bring tears but on Wednesday night it did. At the end of the song she got a much deserved  standing ovation from many of us in the audience. It can never be stated enough how important she is to Leonard and indeed to all of us as she has co-written so many of the songs he loves to perform for us and we love to hear.

After Hattie Webb’s solo in Take This Waltz I caught her eye and mouthed “Thank you that was beautiful” and she smiled and mouthed back “Thank you”. I was yet again a tearful wreck. I always get emotional at some point at a Leonard concert but for the two Dublin concerts I was more emotional than usual. I think it was a mixture of the fact they were my final two concerts but also the fact that they were absolutely amazing concerts. Leonard and co for me keep getting better and better. I always think the concerts are perfection but having attended a lot of concerts now I have learned there is always room for improvement and that things can be taken to whole new levels, ones which I didn’t even know existed!

From when I bought my tickets I knew that with my brilliant central location I wouldn’t be able to escape for the encores like I usually do so I stayed put and enjoyed it as much as always. Lots of my favourites are performed. I’ve been lucky to see Leonard in many different locations but I have to say for the audience participation especially during So Long Marianne means that my favourite concerts are the Irish ones. I must state though that I’ve loved all the concerts I’ve attended and to be able to witness the magic is so many locations is something I am truly grateful for and I’ve loved all the different places I’ve visited.

The atmosphere for So Long Marianne didn’t disappoint and it was amazing. A couple of times I glanced around the venue and it was electric seeing the whole place up enjoying it. The reaction to First We Take Manhattan was on a par with New York and reminded me of those concerts.

While it looked like Closing Time might have indeed being closing time Leonard delighted us with performing one last song, I Tried To Leave you. I love when this is done as each band member has a solo. One of my favourite parts is Rafael Gayol’s drum solo where he throws his drumstick in the air and tries to catch it. This time he missed but that made us all smile.

 

Heading into The O2 for night two my heart was torn with a mixture of excitement for the night to come but also with an ache knowing this was going to be my  last concert for the foreseeable future. Please readers know I am truly grateful for all the concerts I had but I’ve never become complacent and Leonard’s concerts and the times I’ve spent speaking with him are the best moments of my life.

This was an extremely emotional concert for me and in my opinion very very close to Lissadell as one of the most special concerts I’ve attended. Between a new song, the return of one of my absolute favourites Anthem, actual funny hecklers and Leonard’s closing words it made for what I can only describe as a magical recipe of perfection.

The first song to have me in tears was Bird On The Wire. Again like Who By Fire the previous night I don’t usually cry during this song but it is one of my favourites and in what I call my top five of Hallelujah, So Long Marianne, Anthem and Famous Blue Raincoat. What made this song so special Thursday night was what was an astoundingly amazing performance from Leonard. It is always performed well but I remember thinking at the first night in Montreal Leonard had taken it to a whole new level. Well Thursday night he done it again and so much so my friend and I turned to each other in amazement at the end and said something along the lines “That was out of this world” to each other.

There was no repeat of the “introduction” to Darkness on Thursday but I should make a note of a chant Leonard does to Raphael Gayol during this song. No one has any idea of what this means as I did ask a couple of the crew members who said no one has asked Leonard what it is or what it means!

I was on cloud nine when Leonard performed Anthem at the end of the first half on Thursday. I was heartbroken when I saw it dropped from recent concerts. That song is very significant to me personally and I think it is the perfect song for that part of the concert.

The antics during Tower Of Song were again very amusing with hecklers adding to Leonard. I can’t remember now what was shouted up but at the time found it hilarious. Hopefully a video will appear to remind me!

After Chelsea Hotel #2 on Thursday Leonard had an extra special treat for us, a new song called I’ve Got A Secret. I didn’t recognise the melody but immediately recognised some of the lyrics. While I couldn’t place them at that moment on returning to the hotel I investigated and discovered that they were some of the lyrics from what I call the second version of Feels So Good which we’d heard in Toronto. Speaking with Hattie Webb after I mentioned this and she told me she hadn’t made that connection and was very impressed that I did! On that first listen to the song I immediately loved it. The melody has a lovely jazz feel to it.

As much as I love Leonard singing I also love when he recites A Thousand Kisses Deep. I recorded this on both nights but missed the first few words the first night so had to try again. I’m glad I did though as it was unique the second night when Leonard had a false start due to a lady in the row behind us yelling “Leonard I’m your woman”. Normally someone yelling during this would be on the receiving end of a glare from me but given it was the start it was funny and anything that makes Leonard smile makes me smile.

As it is my all time favourite song from Leonard Hallelujah is always my ultimate highlight at the concerts. He puts passion into every song but seems to do more so in this song and for me I think the Thursday version is my all time favourite rendition. Of course the tears were flowing and more so as it is my last live performance but the tears didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the song.

Like the previous night given my central location I didn’t think I would be able to escape to the front for the encores. However seeing a huge gap directly in front of the seats I asked the person in front would she mind me climbing over the seats to which she kindly allowed and for the first couple of songs of the encores I was in the second row of standing pilgrims but then a gap appeared which allowed me to be at the very front almost centre for the last few songs. This was very special for me as the last time I was that close to Leonard as he performed was during the encores in Katowice 2010. Being that close for especially So Long Marianne and Famous Blue Raincoat is great. It means we can see the glances between Leonard and his band and also experience a up close view of the wonderful musicians.

There was a funny moment for me when having developed a sore throat and lungs from the singing along and the dry ice I was spending ages rooting in my bag for throat sweets. Having eventually found them buried under my jacket I looked up to see a confused look from Charley Webb as to what was I doing. I held them up and touched my neck to demonstrate and she smiled down at me.

It must be noted that the musicians I haven’t mentioned personally throughout this review were just as amazing as they always are. I’m just aware this is a very long review and I hope my readers enjoy it. I think I just want to have a record of as many moments of these two concerts as I can! Just to mention though Alexandru Bublitchi performances on the violin are always breathtaking and I always appreciate the contribution by the musical director and bassist Roscoe Beck.

After having Anthem as a extra song I thought maybe we’d get a shorter encore but no Leonard actually gave us an extra song there too with Save The Last Dance. While I always prefer hearing Cohen’s songs over covers I was very happy to get this as an extra at the end. Also I am rarely a fan of listening to covers preferring the originals,but maybe it my love of Leonard but I actually prefer his version to the original!

Leaving The O2 on Thursday night I couldn’t have wished for more over the two nights. We had a total of 60 songs performed, 31 different ones between the two nights. Leonard and his band never fail to deliver but on these nights he gave us everything he got and more. His closing words after Closing Time on Thursday were very special and we could tell he enjoyed these concerts as much as we do. I never thought I’d witness a concert to be on a par with magical Lissadell but the Thursday concert especially is up there for me.

Thank you to Leonard, your wonderful band and crew for giving us the most memorable nights. If these do turn out to be my final concerts I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. For now I take forth the memories and will be eternally grateful to do so.

 

 

Review: Leonard Cohen, Brussels, June 30th 2013

Having spent a fortune seeing Leonard Cohen in concert over the last year and funds starting to run low I had to decide on one European mainland location and when Brussels was announced for the day after my birthday it was decision made to go there.

I’ve being dismayed with how since late last year Cohen concerts have been delayed due to  the audience not being in their seats at the scheduled time so it made me determined to arrive extremely early and got there before the doors even opened. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the venue after hearing negative reports but on entering was pleased to see it didn’t look too bad and our seats were in a great location, 3rd row directly in front of  Javier Mas.

After the delay to allow the seats to be sufficiently filled Cohen and his band came on stage to a massive cheer by a delighted audience. After the opening song Dance Me To The End Of Love Cohen thanked us for coming and to those in the high seats for climbing to those high places and for those of us at the front for paying so dearly. As always every song performed was amazing and every song a highlight. In the opening half my favourites included Who By Fire. I don’t know if it was my close proximity to Javier Mas but for me it was my all time personal favourite rendition. Mas is a musical genius and his solo at the start this song gave me goose-bumps. I also loved the extended applause after his solo and when Hattie Webb joined in on the harp and Roscoe Beck on stand up bass. This applause lasted for the entire first verse. I never witnessed this before and on reading the No Ideas blog from technician Leif Bodnarchuk I see he has never witnessed it either.

Hallelujah aside, my other favourite moment was when Cohen recited A Thousand Kisses Deep. I adore this and Cohen doesn’t  normally quote it at non-English speaking countries so I was delighted and moved to tears when he did it, focusing completely and  soaking it in. Other first half highlights included an as always sublime performance of Bird On The Wire and Lover, Lover, Lover. I do confess I prefer the version sung on the previous tour but judging this version on its own merits it is great and I love the new arrangement at the start of the song. We found it amusing when Cohen started chanting nearing the end of Darkness as we have no idea of why he is doing it but it adds an air of mystery and makes for a good discussion after the concert! Maybe someone reading this can explain it to me. We were also discussing the line change in Anthem from “the dove is never free” to “the dove is always free”.

As always Cohen opened the second half with Tower Of Song and like we had witnessed in New York is continuing to joke about his keyboard abilities and running his elbows along the keys. Having looked at the set lists for recent concerts and seeing both Sisters Of Mercy and Heart With No Companion I had prayed they would remain for this concert so was delighted when they did.  As Brussels is a French speaking country La Manic and The Partisan were both performed and received a huge reception from the audience. I love when during The Partisan Neil Larsen comes down from being the organ and keyboards to play the accordion.

Sharon Robinson as always was amazing when singing Alexandra Leaving. Hallelujah as usual for me was my absolute highlight and the final song of the second half Take This Waltz, with an as usual exquisite solo from Hattie Webb and hauntingly beautiful violin playing from Alexandru Bublitchi was great.

As Cohen did his band introductions at the end of Take This Waltz some of us raced to the barriers. The barriers were closer to the stage than in Dublin last year, so I really enjoyed being the closest I have been to Cohen as he performed, since Katowice in 2010 for the encores. While I did of course love the Canadian and New York concerts I do admit I missed being able to stand in front of the stage singing along to So Long Marianne, First We Take Manhattan and Closing Time. These songs all got a great reception with lots of interaction from the crowd which pleased everyone on stage. The crowd reaction after an as always excellent Famous Blue Raincoat was so loud we could barely hear Cohen speak after it!

I understand the times when to be quiet at a  Cohen concert but there was one person who in the tiers didn’t and it didn’t go down well with me or those around me when he started shouting when Cohen was reciting at the start of If It Be Your Will. The Webb Sisters as usual though were outstanding singing this and also as usual for this song I couldn’t stem the flow of tears.

I always love when I Tried To Leave You is in the set list as it includes solo’s from the entire band. My favourite part of this is Rafael Gayol’s solo where he throws his drumstick in the air and catches it. For the encores I enjoyed being able to see Mitch Watkins as he was hidden from my view for most of the concert. However I still appreciated his input and enjoyed hearing his contribution and especially during Bird On The Wire.

The actual songs aside I just loved the entire feel of this concert. Cohen and everyone on stage was in great form with lots of smiles in appreciation to the audience reception. With the exception of the one person shouting I thought the crowd to be excellent and it always makes me feel good when I am a part of such crowds. I felt this was a very special concert where especially with the slower songs in the gentle way they were performed. In trying to put this feeling into words and thinking about it the only description coming to mind is that of sitting near water and the songs being like waves, soft and soothing during the slow songs and then more powerful but still breathtaking during the faster songs. It was simply magical and a night I’ll never forget.

When I thought my weekend in Brussels having my birthday and a concert the following day couldn’t get better on the Monday it did. After going sight-seeing we were exiting a metro station when I spotted a burger restaurant in front of us and even though we had planned to eat later we decided to go in. After getting our food and sitting down I was looking out the window when I spotted a woman and thought to myself she looks very like Leonard’s PA. Then I saw him and couldn’t believe our luck. Mandy thought I was joking when I said “Leonard is outside” and asked me was I sure and then saw him herself. We went outside and stayed a distance away as never would we dare to approach Leonard while he was eating. When he finished he got up and walked in our direction. He was very happy to see us and thanked us for coming.

After getting a few photos we talked about the previous night and the songs we loved hearing. I mentioned A Thousand Kisses Deep and how I wasn’t expecting it as he doesn’t normally do it at non-English speaking countries and he agreed with me and said that on Sunday night he felt like doing it and was happy I enjoyed it. I also told him I was happy to hear Sisters Of Mercy and Heart With No Companion and of course as always Hallelujah. Mandy also mentioned the songs she enjoyed most. After this Leonard told us we are great friends and we said our goodbyes wishing him well on the rest of the tour. It made for a wonderful memory for us to take with us and treasure forever.

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.

Review: Leonard Cohen Tour Premiere: Ghent, August 12th & 14th 2012

When Leonard Cohen announced in March he was going back on tour I could hardly contain my excitement. After the amazing memories of the previous tour and especially meeting and speaking with him in Las Vegas for another tour to be announced was incredible. After some discussion with my friend as to which European city we would go to we both decided that the idea of having the chance to be at the tour premiere was something neither of us could resist. So it was off to Belgium last Saturday morning for the first two concerts of the tour which were happening on August 12th and 14th. Since the last tour Cohen has released a new album, Old Ideas and also some of the band members have changed so we were very excited to hear the new sound on old favourites and also to hear some of the new songs performed live.

As the concerts were outdoors we were able to take the opportunity to listen to both sound checks and while I am not sure if we heard all of it for the opening concert we certainly did for the second concert. It was an awesome feeling to listen knowing in a few hours we would also witness the magic. Songs we heard on the first sound check included Avalanche (which wasn’t sung live at either concert but both sound checks), The Future, Bird On The Wire and Light As The Breeze.

After sound check my excitement levels were off the scale as we waited the few hours for show time and it was so worth the wait. Cohen and his wonderful band were in fine form and they were as good if not better than in the previous tour. As is traditional with Leonard Cohen in concert he began with Dance Me to the End of Love and the addition of Alexandru Bublitchi on violin really added to the magic on this song and indeed on many songs. After listening to the 1988 tour I was looking forward to the addition of the violin since the announcement was made. I also enjoyed the addition of Mitch Watkins on lead guitar. There was a whole new dimension to the band and while I loved the line-up on the previous tour I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the new sound. After the first song Cohen thanked us for coming and then said “I think that we’re going to, with the help of G-d and two policemen, we’re going to keep on going to the wheelchair’s rust.” This sounded good to us as thankfully Cohen is still at the top of his game!

Trying to pick individual highlights in a Cohen concert for me is extremely hard as he and the band perform everything to perfection and always give 100% to the audience. However stand out moments of the first half of the concert included when Mike Scoble, Cohen’s tour manager played harmonica during Darkness. I joked to my friend that with his hat and glasses he looked like Van Morrison! Bird On The Wire is always a highlight for me as it is one of my favourite Cohen songs. I Can’t Forget was also stand out as I had never heard it live personally before. It was very special the first night wondering what song was going to be next. There will always be a core set of songs Cohen will perform at nearly all, if not all concerts and I was waiting to see if any of my favourites had got removed after the last tour and I was pleased to hear they hadn’t! Of course if they had I would never complain as Cohen gives us so much each night and since both concerts I attended this week were just under the 4 hour mark I don’t think anyone is in a position to complain about song choice. In fact each night there was 33 songs sung which from a man of 77 that is incredible.

Following on from the previous tour we had the traditional ending to the first half where Cohen performed Anthem with those wonderful lines “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” before introducing the band.

After a discussion between friends about what we all thought of the first half where we all agreed it was brilliant it was time to sit back and enjoy the second half of the concert. Also in keeping with tradition Cohen opened the second half with Tower of Song. Featuring Cohen on keyboards it is always such a fun song.

There are many more highlights to take from this; again all songs were performed to perfection. My personal highlight at a Leonard Cohen concert is always going to be Hallelujah. As I have stated many times for me this is the greatest song ever written and I can never get through a Cohen concert without this song reducing me to tears. Sitting watching Cohen sing this live while I watch is something I will never get enough of and I love the added magic by Neil Larson on keyboards. The Partisan was a special moment as Cohen brought the entire band as close as possible to each other and it was good to see Larson down from behind his keyboard with the accordion. Other stand out moments for me included The Webb Sister’s singing If It Be Your Will and Coming Back To You where Roscoe Beck stood behind them with the stand-up bass guitar. The musical director, Roscoe Beck is one of my favourite members of the band. I also loved when during Democracy Cohen played the jew harp which I confess I had never heard of before!

The magical first night was closed with Waiting For The Miracle. It is indeed a miracle that someone of Cohen’s age can deliver such an amazing concert and he puts nearly everyone else on the concert circuit to shame, the only exception I can think of to this rule is Bruce Springsteen who is also legendary at giving long concerts.

After a day of rest it was time for take two and first up was the second sound check. Cohen was on stage for an hour and a half and sang eight songs; going over some a few times making sure they were perfect. The songs included Night Comes On which is one of my favourite Cohen songs but one which he only sang in concert once on the last tour and he didn’t perform it in the concert this time either. He also sang Chelsea Hotel # 2 and Field Commander Cohen during the sound check and at my time of writing he has still to perform these songs in concert. An added dimension to this sound check was that it started raining and the owner of a shop invited us to go to the second floor of his shop where it was dry and more importantly to us we could see the stage from up there. Cohen had left the stage at this point but we were able to witness The “sublime” Webb Sisters singing Coming Back To You and If It Be Your Will. When the offer was made to go upstairs I didn’t even notice what shop we were in until my friend pointed out it was a DVD porn shop. I thought it both genius and hilarious when during the concert she dubbed the shop Tower of Porn after the song by Cohen Tower of Song.

After such a long sound check we were really excited for the concert and what treats awaited us and there were plenty. Once again we were spellbound by a wonderful almost four hours of show time and again nearly every song was a highlight. However Hallelujah aside (of course) I have to say the stand out song was Light As The Breeze. This is a beautiful song from the album The Future and before this tour Cohen has never performed it live so to hear the first ever live in concert version of this song and probably the first ever sound check of it too was amazing. This was sung in the first half and we also heard the only other new song change from the first night, Banjo which Cohen dedicated to the people of New Orleans.

Other first half highlights included and indeed this counts for these songs on the first night too, Javier Mas’ wonderful as always solo on Who By Fire and also hearing Different Sides, my favourite song from the new album Old Ideas. I love the two lines “We come from different sides of a line that nobody drew” and “Frankly I don’t like your tone”. I also loved hearing Bird On The Wire, The Future and Come Healing.

While we didn’t hear any songs not performed the night before in the second half it was still outstanding and when I saw the first concert I wondered how it could possibly improve but it actually did for me. I felt that Sharon Robinson singing Alexandra Leaving was better the second night and I also felt Mitch Watkins was more at ease the second night. This is of course understandable! I was delighted to hear Heart With No Companion sang on both nights and also Crazy To Love You. So Long Marianne is a close second for me to Hallelujah and it is always a highlight at any concert of Cohen’s. Another guaranteed highlight for me is Famous Blue Raincoat. I Tried To Leave You is always special as we get a solo from every musician in this song and Rafael Gayol demonstrates he is an excellent drummer here. Drumming to Cohen’s songs take a special kind of magic as it could easily be overdone but he has it perfected. Cohen rarely sings songs in concert by other artists but a new addition this tour is The Drifters song, Save The Last Dance For Me. This proved to be a popular song to the audience.

I could name every song sung as being brilliant as I love them all and Cohen and his band perform to perfection. It should also be noted the wonderful crew Cohen has as I have never witnessed such perfect lighting and sound as I have at his concerts and I was pleased to see this continued from the previous tour.

Music aside we also have other memorable moments from the first two concerts of the tour. On the first night it was arranged via Facebook that there would be a message for Cohen held up by the front row at the start of the concert and then as many of us as possible would be holding up the Unified Heart symbol in red printed on A4 sheets of paper. The message read “Dear Leonard Thank You For Touching Our Souls With Your Music”. There was another huge sign made by a fan for the encores which we held up when we moved to the barriers that read “Europe Is crazy For You Welcome Back”. Cohen was delighted with this and while thanking us at the end of the night he acknowledged it. On the second night there was much excitement at the front of the audience when just before show time Adam Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s son arrived for the show. Also I loved when during First We Take Manhattan the audience yelled “Then We Take Berlin” for every chorus to the amusement of everyone on stage.

As I reflect back on a wonderful two concerts and write this “War and Peace” report I am so grateful I had the opportunity to attend these concerts. It was a wonderful experience where as usual I went from one emotion to the next in the space of a few seconds. Cohen’s lyric in So Long Marianne is appropriate to me at his concerts “We laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again”, sometimes both at once. Next concerts for me are when the tour comes to Dublin in September and after the magic of Ghent I know we are all in for a memorable time and I await that with much anticipation.