Leonard Cohen Light As The Breeze

Video using an audio recording of Light As The Breeze from Ghent August 14th 2012 using photos I took in Ghent, Dublin, Montreal and Toronto

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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.

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.