Review of Montreal and Toronto

Ever since I first discovered Leonard Cohen I’ve had the dream of seeing him perform in his hometown of Montreal so when the concerts were announced earlier this year it was an easy decision to travel across the Atlantic to realise this dream. I had always said if I went to Montreal I would also go to Toronto and from there visit The Niagara Falls. Destiny would have it that the days we would be in Toronto Leonard would also be there so we had the added pleasure of attending the concerts there. In total there were four concerts, two in each city and like all the Leonard concerts each concert was individual with highlights of their own.

The Montreal concerts were held in the Bell Centre which is a hockey arena and is also used for concerts. On entering the venue I was amazed at how big it looked and was very relieved at having seats close to the stage. While of course I’m grateful for any seat at a Leonard concert I do confess I like to be as close to the stage as possible and see his expressions when he sings and when he takes in his surroundings. When Leonard and his talented musicians came on stage at the start of the concert everyone got to their feet and cheered to welcome Leonard back to his hometown for his first concert there in four years. Every Leonard concert is special but seeing him perform in Montreal was very special. As always he opened with Dance Me To The End Of Love and it was good to see that most people in attendance appeared familiar with all the songs though I have to say the Canadian concert goers are a lot more reserved than the Irish! I was very pleased to see there was little movement from the audience during the songs so we had no distractions while we listened and watched some superb performances.

Highlights on the first night for me included what in my opinion was the best performance I have ever seen of Bird On The Wire. Leonard’s singing and body language as he sang this song for me seemed to be on a whole new level and I was pleasantly surprised as I have always felt he performs this song to perfection so for it to be even better than before was amazing. I’m also loving the addition of some Mitch Watkins solos in this song.

Since I last saw Leonard in Dublin the arrangement for Darkness has changed with him now starting the song at a later verse than before. On the first night in Montreal we wondered was it a mistake but when the same happened the following night we knew it was Leonard doing what he often does in changing songs. He used to play guitar on this song but now performs it without the guitar. This allows him to be very expressive and I loved the body language.

It was also great to hear Leonard recite A Thousand Kisses Deep at all the concerts I attended in Canada. The last time I’d witnessed this was in Las Vegas in 2010. While I love Leonard as a singer I also love when he recites poetry as he is an expert and knows exactly how it should be done. We heard some funny intros to Ain’t No Cure For Love with him using these words on the first night in Montreal. “Sometimes, I stumble out of bed, look at myself in the mirror and say to the mirror `Lighten up, Cohen, how long is it going to take you to get used to the news that there ain’t no cure for love’?”

On the first night in Montreal we were treated to the tour premiere of Show Me The Place and indeed the first time this song was sung live as it is from the new album. It sounds great live and it was very much appreciated. Hallelujah as always was my concert highlight and I loved when Leonard sang the line “I didn’t come home to fool you”. Even though as usual come the end of this song I had tears streaming down my face this made me smile and pleased I was to be witnessing him in his hometown.

As always everyone on stage gave a great performance and it was great to see. Both Mitch Watkins and Alexandru Bublitchi appeared to have more solos than when I had seen the tour in Europe. It was also great to see Raphael Gayol had an extra solo in Darkness.

For night two in Montreal we were a little further back but not so far that I needed the screens and I could still see the expressions from everyone on stage. The first set was the same as the first set on the previous night but as I stated in reviews before if Leonard sang the same songs every night I’d never complain as when the performance is to such a high standard I feel there is no room for complaints! Of course there are songs I’ve never heard him sing live that I’d love to hear but I can’t complain about perfection.

At every Leonard concert we are treated to amazing solos and one that always stands out is Javier Mas at the start of Who By Fire. He is a genius on the bandurria and he plays with such an intensity that the whole crowd is instantly silenced and he always receives a resounding applause after his solo. I love when Roscoe Beck joins in on standup bass nearing the end of Mas’ solo. Beck is a fantastic musician and as musical director for the tour his input is immense. The addition of the violin at Leonard’s concerts on this tour is very welcome to my ears and I especially love Alexandru Bublitchi’s contributions to Dance Me To The End Of Love and Suzanne.

While the addition of Show Me The Place was much appreciated the first night Leonard had something extra special for us on the second night. After an introduction in French he sang a song unknown to me but which was very well received by the Canadians in the concert. I since discovered that the song in question was La Manic originally sang by Georges Dor, a song held dear by the people from Quebec. While I didn’t recognise the song I knew from the audience reaction we had just witnessed something very special. I felt this was very appropriate that Leonard should do this in his hometown. Another special song to hear in Montreal was The Partisan. As this song is sung half in English and half in French it was very well received by the home crowd. I love the way Leonard brings all the musicians close together for this song and it especially good to see Neil Larsen down from behind his keyboards playing the accordion.

Also performed on the second night was I Tried To Leave You. I always love when Leonard sings this song live as each band member has a solo in it and I love Rafael Gayol’s solo as he throws his drumstick in the air and then catches it. As he is hidden from view behind his drums we seldom see him but his contribution is huge and he really is the Master of precision as described by Leonard in his band introductions at all the concerts.

Visiting Montreal while first and foremost was the chance to witness Leonard in his hometown it was also the chance to see the place he grew up and places mentioned in his poetry, art and songs. We enjoyed trips to the area he spent his childhood, seeing Our Lady of the Harbour at Bon Secours which is immortalised in Suzanne with the line ”And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbour”. We visited McGill University and were disappointed to see no reference to Leonard having studied there but it is a beautiful building well worth seeing. We also visited The Parc Du Portugal and were pleased to witness the first snow of winter there as Leonard has done a painting called “First Snow” at this location. We visited many other places too while in Montreal and it was very enjoyable experience and meeting friends who were kind enough to show us these places made it all the more special.

After almost a week in Montreal we departed to Toronto knowing we’d two more concerts and other special moments to look forward to. The day after arriving we fulfilled the dream of seeing The Niagara Falls which was wonderful and we were blessed with sunshine and warm weather on that day. The following day was a concert day but before the concert we had one last Leonard related place to visit. It was after we had booked our trip that I had the idea to try to get permission to view Leonard’s archives in The University of Toronto and we were delighted to receive that permission and so it was with much excitement we went to the University to view some of the items. There is too much to view on one day but we did spend 3 hours reading unpublished stories and letters. I loved all of it but especially the short stories. I won’t go into details because if Leonard wanted these in the public domain he’d publish them himself but suffice to say all the usual Leonard traits and subjects were covered and should I ever return to Toronto I’d seek permission to view these again and give myself more time!

After this it was time to get ready for the first Toronto concert at The Air Canada Centre. This concert was amazing for me and Leonard really changed the setlist from Montreal. The only one of these changes in the first half was the addition of Different Sides after A Thousand Kisses Deep. I was delighted to hear this song as it is my favourite from Old Ideas and indeed one of all time favourite Cohen songs. Other first half highlights included Leonard dancing during The Future during the line “White men dancing”. I love when Leonard is in a playful humour and he certainly was this night. I was pleased to note many smiles from the stage and seeing Leonard so relaxed.

Before the Toronto concerts I had named them the Hallelujah concerts in honour of my love of this song and the fact that the dates of the concerts were on the 4th and the 5th and fitted in nicely with the 4th line of the lyrics, “It goes like this the fourth the fifth”. I had a smile on my face as Leonard sang this line both nights. Of course this was before the usual tears as even if I don’t mention the song on every night in this review as I want to mention as many songs as possible it always has the same effect on me. This song introduced me to Leonard’s music which changed my life forever so I will always hold it dear.

There was many other highlights in the second half of this concert. This included my first Canadian time to hear I Can’t Forget and Anyhow, which I’d only heard once before in Dublin. If I’m completely honest I did prefer the Dublin rendition as Leonard sang it looking up whereas in Toronto he was looking down and I love when we see Leonard looking up when he is singing and seeing completely the expression on his face! It was great hearing yet another tour premiere on this night which was Feels So Good. This song has never appeared on an album and was premiered on the previous tour in 2009. However the version we heard in Toronto was very much different to the performances on the previous tour so much so that it was almost a completely different song.

Another highlight was during So Long Marianne when Leonard sang the words “God damn mountain side”. The last time I had heard him use those words was in Lissadell so it reminded me of a wonderful memory. There was a funny moment when Leonard thanked those who climbed to the high seats and then those of us who had emptied our pockets in the lower seats.

I haven’t mentioned it before as trying not to repeat myself but it must be noted the sublime performance of The Webb Sisters of If It Be Your Will at every concert and also the performance of Sharon Robinson during Alexandra Leaving. Both these performances every night is amazing and I never tire hearing them. Indeed there are many songs with the three ladies having solos and they always sound wonderful.

All too soon it was our final Canadian concert but the one where we had front row tickets which was a nice way to end our adventure and indeed our final Leonard concert this year.It would prove to be a great concert with some unique memories to take away with us.

During the intro to Ain’t No Cure For Love this time we got an intro with a difference. Leonard spoke about reading reviews of the previous night on the internet and he said he had seen a bad one and he couldn’t understand why he didn’t dislike the son of a bitch (his words!!) more and that he should hate him but then he realised there ain’t no cure for love. As someone who writes reviews I found this highly amusing and wondered who would write a bad review of a Leonard concert. Of course I know that not everyone shares the same opinions but bad Leonard reviews are very rare. It makes me wonder who was the reviewer. I have yet to read the review but I’d hazard a guess this person is not an admirer of Leonard’s. This does annoy me when people who are not admirers do reviews. It was once suggested to me to improve my writing I needed to start reviewing artists I don’t like. I disagreed with this as I feel for someone to write a proper review they need to at least like the genre of music they are reviewing. I can assure you all I have seen concerts of people I love and have been very disappointed and don’t review with rose-tinted glasses!

As with all the other nights there were many highlights and indeed for me every song is a highlight but of course some songs stand out for different reasons on different nights. On this night it was great to hear the tour premiere of Chelsea Hotel # 2. This was a solo with Leonard on his own with just his guitar. I have to say I felt blessed to have heard tour premieres on all four concerts I attended in Canada. Considering there had already been 44 previous concerts on this tour made it even more impressive.

As this was my final concert of the year I savoured every minute of it. It must be noted that songs I haven’t yet mentioned but love hearing every night include Famous Blue Raincoat, Anthem, Closing Time, First We Take Manhattan and Come Healing. I do indeed love all Leonard’s songs but these are extra special with the aforementioned songs for me. Famous Blue Raincoat has always been a favourite and I love the way Cohen now ends it with “Sincerely, a Friend”. Anthem is a song which literally changed my life when I was going through some difficulties. I’d only just discovered the song at the time and slowly the lyrics gave me strength when I needed it most. I always love the upbeat melodies and great lyrics of both Closing Time and First We Take Manhattan and the melody and The Webb Sisters singing Come Healing is beauty personified.

The final song was Leonard’s cover of Save The Last Dance for me. This was our first time hearing it in Canada and it was a nice way to end our adventure. We had a wonderful time in Canada and we met amazing people who are now friends and I hope someday to meet them again if not in Canada then hopefully somewhere else on the road.

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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.