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.
When it was announced that Adam Cohen would be playing in concert in Brussels on August 13th on the free day for us between his father Leonard Cohen’s concerts that we were attending in Ghent we couldn’t resist the chance to be there as it was only an hour on the train between the two cities. Cohen was playing as part of the Brussels Summer Festival in a tent called Magic Mirrors.
After arriving good and early so I would be at the front everyone was sitting relaxing when Cohen and his two band members Michael Chaves and Mai Bloomfield came on stage. I was very surprised when everyone remained sitting and initially that annoyed me as sitting on the floor isn’t very comfortable for me. However after a while I came to enjoy this as it added a very intimate feel to the concert and I was pleased to see Cohen had attracted a decent crowd as the act before his hadn’t!
Cohen was on stage for an hour and we got to hear songs from his album Like A Man including Lie Alone, Sweet Dominique and Beautiful which he wrote for his son. I hadn’t listened to this album in a while so it was like revisiting an old friend and I really enjoyed it.
For anyone who had been at his father’s concert the previous night there were two very special treats awaiting us. After the first song Cohen asked us would we prefer he spoke in English or French and when there seemed to be an equal number if shouts he decided to speak in French so I didn’t really understand what he was saying when he mentioned his father but when I heard him say the words Mike Scoble I was delighted as he is both Cohen’s tour managers and the previous night he had joined Leonard Cohen on stage for Darkness where he played harmonica. This time he joined Adam Cohen, again on harmonica but this time to perform Leonard Cohen’s song Tower Of Song. As a rule I am not a fan of people singing Leonard’s songs, however for Adam I make an exception as I love him as a singer too and feel that he gets how his father’s songs should be treated!
As special as this moment was it was nothing to what our next treat was. Again Cohen was speaking French but when I heard the words Javier Mas I could hardly contain my excitement. Mas is a full time member of Leonard Cohen’s band and is the master of stringed instruments and is famous in concert at playing amazing solos especially during Who By Fire. He joined Adam Cohen on stage to perform another of his father’s songs and indeed one of my favourites, So Long Marianne. It sounded amazing and watching from such a close location was a very special moment for me. I had spoken to Javier Mas earlier in the day and that added to the magic of the moment.
These moments and once again seeing Adam Cohen in concert made for a memorable evening which was topped off after with as he often does a meet and greet with anyone who wished to speak with him. I was very touched when he remembered me from our last meeting. I also spoke briefly to Michael Chaves, a gentleman. It always impresses me how the Cohen’s musicians and crews are as amazing as they are. The whole evening was very enjoyable and we left Brussels to go back to Ghent with great memories to take with us.
Again I was a good bit back so not brilliant photos. Brilliant memories though 🙂
© Gwen Langford
I was miles back at this concert so the photos aren’t great.
© Gwen Langford
As a teenager Leonard Cohen practised hypnotism, and I sometimes wonder is that what he does to us at his concerts, as no matter how many times I’ve seen him live I always feel compelled to go again. I’m happy to be under this spell though as it meant I have had the best experiences of my life. Having this year alone previously seen Leonard in concert here in Ireland and also in Poland I decided I just had to attend the final two shows of the tour, so it was off to Las Vegas for only my second ever time out of Ireland. Poland had being the first, such is the impact Leonard has had on my life. Since the concerts at The Colosseum in Caesars Palace Las Vegas were the final two shows of a mammoth three year tour I just knew I had to be there no matter what the sacrifices I’d have to make.
The first of the two shows took place on Friday December 10th with the final show taking place the following night. Both nights saw almost identical set lists with the only exception being the addition of Born in Chains on the final night. However no two Leonard concerts are the same, regardless of set list and while always brilliant, each night had its own special moments and memories.
On the Friday night on entering The Colosseum, for the first time, I was very taken with the design and how compact it looked. It seemed incredibly small for a venue which can hold up to 5000 patrons. I was almost at the rear of the venue for the Friday show but I felt like I was close to the stage!
Leonard and his wonderful band entered the stage shortly after 8pm to a wondrous applause from a delighted audience, where there were many who like myself had travelled thousands of miles to be able to witness the magic at the end of the tour. Hearing the familiar sounds of the now traditional opening song at a Cohen concert, Dance me to the end of Love I sat back relaxed and was all ready to enjoy what I knew would be over three hours of entertainment to come.
As always Leonard and his fantastic band performed to the highest level. It is a testament to Leonard of how well he is respected in the industry that he can attract great musicians in their own right to go on tour with him for three years. The mutual love and respect they all have for each other is there to see and really adds to what is already a perfect formula. During all of the many solo parts for each musician Leonard stands there, hat removed head bowed listening intently, appreciating every word and every note. Even though this is a familiar sight to my eyes it never fails to move me or to impress me. In all the concerts I attend I’ve never seen this high level of mutual respect before, except in an actual band situation. Lead singers may command respect but I’ve never seen it returned in the same way as Leonard returns it.
I find it hard to pick individual musical highlights as I love all the songs, and when each is performed to perfection it is almost impossible to choose individual favourites. However as always for me Hallelujah was a standout moment, bittersweet that while I knew I’d hear Leonard perform it again the following night, the end was nigh. Other standout songs for me from the first night include My Gypsy Wife, a spoken rendition of A Thousand Kisses Deep, which was unfortunately nearly ruined for me when a woman nearby started moaning really loudly. While initially funny it did become an irritant after a while. To my ears and those beside me it sounded like moans of pleasure, however while talking to a friend after the concert he told me a woman fitting the description I described was being taken off on a stretcher!
Another song which was extra special was the solo performance of Boogie Street by Sharon Robinson, who had being absent for some European dates due to illness including the concert I attended in Katowice. I was very happy to see her return and as always her vocals were impeccable. Sharon has co-written many of Leonard’s recent songs where of course he has supplied the lyrics and she the music. Along with the aforementioned Boogie Street two of these songs include Waiting for the Miracle and In My Secret Life. I absolutely love the melodies of both these songs so Sharon will always be held in high respect, and I was delighted to see her back and looking and sounding fantastic.
Non-musical highlights included when Leonard described Las Vegas as an unmagical place, and a curious place. It does seem a strange place for Leonard to perform as everything is very over the top and extravagant, which are descriptions which one could never use when describing Leonard . Usually he introduces Anthem with saying how lucky we are to gather in this privileged place while so much of the world in plunged in chaos which he did indeed return to for the final show, but we appreciated the change for one night only! It made his line in Anthem “There is a crack in everything” seem more poignant than at any of the previous concerts I’d attended.
At the end of this song as it is always the end of the first half Leonard introduces us to his wonderful band. Always eloquent in his introductions it is a part of the show I love and each band member in turn is described in a wonderful way like when he introduces his musical director Roscoe Beck as the pilgrim of perfection. However in recent shows he has taken to giving drummer Raphael Bernardo Gayol an extended introduction. While I had heard about it I hadn’t seen it before the Friday night show. My favourite quote from this new extended introduction was when Cohen called him the drummer in the quietest rock and roll band around!
Another personal highlight from the Friday show was during Leonard’s thanks at the end of the show. While thanking the fans he acknowledged that many of us had travelled long distances to be there and he couldn’t describe us as fans, that it was more than that. This touched my heart and it most certainly true that I don’t just love Leonard for his wonderful songs, it is indeed more than that!
While I thoroughly enjoyed the Friday concert the Saturday one simply blew me away. I don’t think Lissadell will ever be topped for me but this has come very, very close. Right from the start there was a raw energy to everything and the atmosphere was electric. We knew we were in for a very special night but we also knew this would be the final concert for the foreseeable future which meant emotions were heightened right from the off. This could be seen on stage too where everyone seemed to be pushing that little bit extra. It brings new meaning to the phrase 110% as that is what it felt like they were giving.
Nearly every song ended with a standing ovation at the Saturday show from most of the audience. The first song of the Friday show to achieve this was Hallelujah which is performed in the second half of the show to put this in perspective.
There was a very special moment when during the last few minutes of the interval a section of the fans started singing Passing Through and when Leonard came out on stage after hearing the fans he sang a line from it for us. For the final show it had being arranged via email to get as many women as possible to wear something with polka dots for the final show in tribute to the lyrics of Closing Time. While I did indeed have a headband on I was too far back to be seen from the stage but it was great to see people waving these items over their heads during the song with some people throwing them on stage!
As mentioned earlier in this report Leonard performed Born in Chains on the Saturday night. Having not been performed the previous night I was very pleased to hear it. There are solos from Sharon Robinson and individual solos from Hattie and Charley Webb. Mixing these beautiful singers with Leonard’s gorgeous voice makes for the most wonderful harmonies and adds such magic to each song. I do love the solos in this song and also when The Webb Sisters sing If it be Your Will as well as the aforementioned Boogie Street by Robinson. All of the band members play an important roll with many solos throughout. I especially love Javier Mas introduction to Who By Fire, Dino Soldo’s solo during Bird on the Wire and a personal favourite has to be Neil Larson’s piano solo during my beloved Hallelujah. I also appreciate the important roles of bassist Roscoe Beck, lead guitarist Bob Metzger and of course the master timekeeper Rafael Bernardo Gayol.
Like the Friday night it is is extremely difficult to pick individual highlights apart from of course my precious Hallelujah where on the Saturday night I felt my heart was breaking as I knew it will be long time before I get to hear it performed live again. So Long Marianne is also a personal favourite to hear live and it comes very close to Hallelujah both in my affections and as a personal highlight at each concert. I was very happy when Leonard again recited A Thousand Kisses Deep this time with no interruption. While I love Leonard for his singing of his songs first and foremost, this is an absolute gem when it is recited. Leonard who was first a poet is an expert at recitation.
While the end was nigh we really couldn’t ask for more as we were treated to almost four hours of magic with only a twenty minute interval. I really felt for Leonard and his band, for as heartbroken as we were that the tour was over they have spent three years on the road together and the bond between them all is plain to see. There were tears in my eyes as Leonard said his final thanks to everyone involved over the last three years.
Now the tour is finally over Leonard is heading into studio to record his twelfth album and first since 2004. If the three songs premiered on this tour, Born in Chains, The Darkness and Feels so Good are anything to go by this record will be amongst the best work he has ever released. Rarely is an artist still at the top of his game in his mid seventies but then Leonard Cohen is an unique entity.
After the show on the Saturday night I was lucky enough to meet both Dino Soldo and The Webb Sisters. It was great being able to personally thank them for their contribution to the tour and each show. However nothing will ever beat the moment when on the Sunday morning I actually met Leonard and was personally able to thank him for the effect he has had on my life and for his amazing concerts and that I really do hope he tours again. I also conveyed this wish to his manager Robert Kory who promised he would do his best to make this wish happen.
I say thank you to Leonard Cohen,his wonderful band and crew and will be forever grateful to have being there to witness the magic. For now, I say until we meet again, So Long Leonard Cohen it has being a pleasure to attend these concerts.
© Gwen Langford
A question I asked myself as I headed to see Leonard Cohen in concert in Katowice, Poland was can perfection be beaten? Having witnessed the most amazing concert of my life when he played Lissadell House in Sligo earlier this year I did wonder how or if this concert could compare. While I don’t think the Lissadell House gig will ever be topped this concert came very close for a number of special reasons.
I only decided to go to this concert after that amazing night in Sligo so when I went to purchase my ticket my choices were limited. I had the option of a cheap downstairs ticket at the rear of the venue of the top level price in the front row of the balcony. I decided to buy the balcony ticket as at least I’d have a clear view of the stage. However fate was looking down on me as I’d only just taken my seat when some fellow fans that I had met before the concert presented me with a spare ticket for the forth row from the front!Such was my excitement for this concert for once I didn’t notice the starting times or finishing times of either half though I do know that Cohen and his fantastic band delivered to us over 3.5 hours of excellence as is per usual. Having being at Lissadell House and having watched numerous videos of this tour on You Tube I was aware of most of the songs to expect and when we would be treated to them. While in some intances this can be an irritant in this case it only heightened my excitement as I listened to each fantastic song after another knowing that more favourites awaited me.
Cohen and his band started with Dance me to the end of Love with other early songs including The Future and a wonderful performance of one of my favourites Bird on the Wire. The arrangement on this song is so different to the original but is beautiful and so relaxing to listen to.
Also performed in this first half were two of the new song The Darkness and Born in Chains. Although both of these are excellent songs the later would be my preference. This song only premiered on the tour in July but it is fast becoming a fan favourite.
Every song sounded amazing and the solos provided by various band members were sublime and we wanted each song to go on and on. At many moments during the concert I felt my eyes well up at the beauty of it all. It should be noted while us avid fans did miss Sharon Robinson who is absent while she recovers from being ill, The Webb Sisters did an excellent job in her absence where their vocals were impeccable.
In what felt like no time at all Cohen was introducing the band and we were at the intermission. While we moved to the front to chat and relax I had the pleasure of shaking hands with The Webb Sisters father Graham Webb.
It was then time for the second half of the concert. I absolutely love the second half of Cohen concerts as my two favourite songs Hallelujah and So Long Marianne are performed during this half. Hallelujah will always be my concert highlight but it had stiff competition for what was to come in this second half.
Opening the second half with the excellent Tower of Song Cohen looked very relaxed and happy to be performing for us. This was followed by the imensely popular Suzanne which up until recently was the most covered of all Cohen songs. It has being well overtaken in recent years by Hallelujah where most of these covers in my opinon should be consigned to the garbage bin as these people are not fit to sing what is in my opinion the greatest song ever written.
When Cohen left the stage at the end of Take this Waltz while the band finished the music to the song a group of us fans moved to the gangway leading to the stage. After the concert at Lissadell I felt compelled to thank Cohen in some way. I decided to get a huge Ireland flag and on it I wrote the message “Thank you Leonard and co for the magic and memories of Lissadell” in big black writing. At this moment I held up the flag for the band to see. It gave me a warm feeling to see them notice it and smile and point it out to each other. Once the music stopped we raced to the stage for So Long Marianne as this song is traditionally the most upbeat song at a Cohen concert. I draped my flag across the barrier in front of where Cohen would be and when he came back on stage he read it and a smile lit up his face. That moment will live in my heart forever and it made any anxieties I had about travelling alone to a foreign land to see him completely worth it.
It was an amazing feeling listening to So Long Marianne after this. Normally at Cohen concerts everyone sings along to this but the crowd here were somewhat reserved! I personally did sing along though and a few songs later I was singing along to Closing Time where Cohen noticed and smiled.
Personal satisfaction aside there were many highlights for everyone at this concert. I noticed many happy faces when Cohen performed Avalanche as he doesn’t perform this live very often. Other highlights included a stunning performance of Feels so Good the third of the new songs performed and possibly the best rendition I’ve seen of this song sofar. The ever brilliant Famous Blue Raincoat also must be mentioned along with the final song of the night Hey That’s no way to say Goodbye. Typical Cohen to end on an ironic song like this. I was very happy though as it is amongst my favourites and he doesn’t always perform it.
One of the many aspects that makes a Cohen concert so special is the wonderful band he has with him. We were treated to spectacular solos throughout including wind instruments from the super talented Dino Soldo and string solos from the legendary Javier Mas. In the words of Cohen himself The Webb Sisters are “angels fallen from heaven” and his musical director Roscoe Beck is the”pilgrim of perfection. Neil Larsen always brings tears to my eyes during his piano solo during Hallelujah. For Cohen to have long time friend Bob Metzger perform with himand with “master timekeeper” Raphael Bernardo Gayol keeping the beat it makes for a perfect combination and the respect between everyone on stage makes for a very special atmosphere which in all the concerts I attend I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Unfortunately for the fans this tour ends in December but Cohen himself promised a fan that he will be back. We live in hope that this does come to pass. He is due to head into studio to record his next studio album and if the songs premiered on this tour are an indicator of what is to come it is safe to say that over 40 years since his first album Cohen is still on top of his game when it comes to writing great music.