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.

 

 

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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.

Túr Na nAmhrán: The Cohen Project

When it was announced that there would be a Leonard Cohen tribute with the songs being sung in Irish I was instantly intrigued and immediately booked a ticket. I’m not normally a fan of other people singing Cohen’s song, however I liked the originality of this and went with an open mind to watch and listen to what would unfold on stage. I was also interested to hear Liam Ó Maonlaí singing Cohen’s songs as he has a beautiful haunting voice.

Also on stage with Ó Maonlaí was Hilary Bow and The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra. There was a big screen at the back of the stage where the lyrics and images were projected to help us follow the songs in Irish. The images included photos of Cohen from his entire career and also artist impressions of the lyrics by Margaret Lonergan. The songs had been translated from English to Irish by Liam Ó Muirthile and Gabriel Rosenstock.

Opening with Suzanne and Ó Maonlaí singing I was immediately impressed by everyone on stage. There was a great camaraderie between all the musicians and singers and they were all very accomplished at what they were doing. The singing of the songs was shared between Ó Maonlaí, Bow and the members of the Blake family from The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra. James Blake was standout for me with an excellent rendition of So Long Marianne. Diane Daly on violin was also very impressive and I loved her playing on Bird On The Wire and Famous Blue Raincoat. Hallelujah was the 3rd song of the night with Hilary Bow singing lead vocals. It is well-known in my circle of Cohen friends that as a rule I do not like anyone other than Cohen and Jeff Buckley singing this song. Personally I saw Bow’s performance as blending in with all the other covers, although in the better half of these covers as she does have an incredible voice and did the song justice in not going over the top with her rendition. It was interesting hearing my favourite song sung in Irish!

Other songs performed in the first half included Bird on the Wire, Democracy and Diamonds In The Mine. I was especially impressed with the later which was like So Long Marianne performed by James Blake. During Everybody Knows one of the images used included a photo of the Costa Concordia and a photo of its captain which accompanied the line “Everybody knows the captain lied”. While some in the audience found this funny I personally thought it was in very bad taste and not a good idea in my opinion that it was included. I was also disappointed with Ó Maonlaí’s version of Darkness. He seemed to overdo it and I felt it didn’t fit in with how the song should be interpreted.

I had mixed feelings at the interval having not liked the joke and also the version of Darkness so I was apprehensive when the second half begun. However it was to prove unfounded as I enjoyed all the songs in the second half and there was no more jokes! I was initially surprised when Ó Maonlaí had only performed a couple of songs in the first half. However such was the talent of everyone on stage I was happy that there was balance between the singers and it made for many interesting styles of singing throughout.

My favourite moment of the night came during The Future when my rose photo I took of Cohen in Katowice was used as one of the images during that song. It was a great honour to see the photo on the screen for everyone to see and I made sure to tell the staff afterwards in the hope that Margaret Lonergan would hear that one of the photos she choose was taken by an audience member.

Musically I loved hearing The Partisan in Irish given it is already sung in English and French by Cohen. While I of course know all the words to Cohen’s songs, it wasn’t as easy as I thought to follow them in Irish so I was grateful for the lyrics on-screen to help me translate in my mind. The Tower of Song was one of the highlights with everyone of stage looking happy and even had the organiser of the show dancing in the aisles!

After taking a bow the band returned to position for one final song and indeed one of my favourites, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. This sounded great in Irish and I loved it as a final song.

Leaving aside the couple of niggles in the first half I have to say overall it was a very enjoyable night and I loved hearing Cohen’s songs performed in Irish. Everyone on stage did a great job of honoring his songs and the backdrop where there was often images of Cohen on-screen paid him a great honour. As my Irish is almost non-existent I can’t comment to how accurate the translations were. While leaving the venue I was impressed to hear numerous conversations about the night spoken in Irish and this was from many different groups of people! Heading back to my hotel I hope that this concert won’t be a once off and that Túr Na nAmhrán: The Cohen Project returns to stage in the future.

Setlist:

Suzanne
So Long Marianne
Hallelujah
Bird On The Wire
Democracy
Darkness
Diamonds In The Mine
Everybody Knows
Dance Me To The End Of Love

Anthem
First We Take Manhattan
The Future
Banjo
The Partisan
Famous Blue Raincoat
Tower Of Song

Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye.