After fulfilling a dream of seeing Leonard Cohen in his home town of Montreal last year next on the wish list was New York and Manhattan. While New York was on the list of locations last year I was unable to go so it was great when it appeared again this year and it didn’t take very long to decide to go. There are so many New York connections in Cohen’s songs and hearing the likes of First We Take Manhattan and Famous Blue Raincoat being performed in the city they referenced was something I was really looking forward to.
Heading into the Radio City Music Hall last Saturday I was very excited knowing I had two nights of Cohen and company live ahead of me. With the exception of the addition of I Tried To Leave You for the second concert the set lists for the two concerts were identical. However as I have often stated before Cohen could perform the same songs every night and I would still enjoy and relish the experience each and every time. For the Saturday concert while close to the front our seats were out to the side which meant we couldn’t see Mitch Watkins at all and only caught glimpses of Alexandru Bublitchi when he stood for his solos. However for the second concert we were in the centre so I could see all the band members and enjoy all their solos.
From the traditional opener of Dance Me To The End Of Love each night Cohen and company were in top form and it was good to see all the band looking happy and healthy given their recent flu and I was especially delighted to see Roscoe Beck looking well after him having to leave a concert early and miss one due to exhaustion.
Cohen has taken to making interesting introductions to Ain’t No Cure For Love and Anyhow on this tour and I love them both. The intro to Ain’t No Cure For Love is always variations of him looking in the mirror in his hotel room and telling himself to get a grip and when will he ever learn there ain’t no cure for love. His New York description included him describing the mirror as the ones found in hotel bathrooms which enlarge the face and how the one in his hotel there had bright lights and that people over the age of eleven should never look in mirrors. Anyhow is introduced with Cohen speaking about when he is 80 he is going to take up smoking again and he describes how a nurse, will bring out a tray with an open box of cigarettes on it and that the cigarettes will look like gleaming tiny Parthenon’s and he will ask the nurse to tap out the bubbles from the IV. During Sunday’s concert he extended this to include that the nurse could be male or female. I always love seeing Cohen and company smiling and enjoying themselves on stage. Another funny moment in both concerts was his antics during Tower Of Song. Cohen uses a keyboard for this song and soon into the song when the crowd are cheering he stops singing and looks into the crowd asking are we humouring him. He then proceeds to show us what else he can do with the keyboard and includes running his elbow along the keys.
As always I had many musical highlights with Hallelujah my usual favourite moments. I will never get tired watching Cohen perform this song. He sings this song with such an intensity that makes us forget the many covers and claims the song back as his own. First We Take Manhattan got a great reception on both nights with the audience clapping to the beat as soon as the band started playing the intro. It is the most up tempo song on the set list and the atmosphere was electric. I noticed during Democracy on the second night Cohen stood back for some of the choruses and let his backing singers sing while he danced and enjoyed the atmosphere. Having only witnessed Show Me The Place live once last year I was pleased to hear it both times in New York. I also loved hearing So Long Marianne although I have to confess I do prefer it here in Europe where we can stand at the front for the encores. However I still love hearing the song at every concert. Listening to Famous Blue Raincoat in New York was amazing even though we never actually made it to Clinton Street! The one song I would loved to have heard but didn’t was Chelsea Hotel #2 given we were in New York but Cohen choose not to sing it. However having both First We Take Manhattan and Famous Blue Raincoat in the set list was great.
I felt while the crowd was good both nights that the second night had the edge. Every time a band member had a solo piece the crowd respectively clapped when the solo ended and it always gives me a warm feeling when I am part of a great audience and Cohen and company deserve the best in return for giving us their best each and every night. While all the band did receive a great reception it was Sharon Robinson’s rendition of Alexandra Leaving which got the greatest cheer and indeed a standing ovation. The Webb Sisters also got a load cheer for If It Be Your Will. While I’m prone to tears at any time at a Cohen concert the one song that never fails to have them streaming down my face is If It Be Your Will and New York was no exception here. The more I hear Alexandru Bublitchi on the violin the more I enjoy his contributions to Cohen’s songs. He adds a beauty to the songs and most especially in Dance Me To The End Of Love and Take This Waltz. It must also be noted how beautiful the contribution by Hattie Webb singing duet on Take This Waltz sounds. A real crowd pleaser and something I always look forward to is Javier Mas’ introduction to Who By Fire on the bandurria with Roscoe Beck joining on the stand up bass and Charley Webb on clarinet. I love Mitch Watkins solo on lead guitar on Bird On The Wire, This is one of my favourite Cohen songs and I’ve felt in shows in Canada last year and again in New York that Cohen is singing it with even more intensity than before. I’d always loved the song and always felt it was perfect but Cohen demonstrates that he can always improve on his songs and take them to a new level we didn’t even know existed.
Other highlights included Cohen’s recitation of A Thousand Kisses Deep. I adore this poem and it is always a real treat to hear Cohen recite it live. Neil Larsen’s organ playing is always beautiful and especially on the aforementioned Hallelujah and while Rafael Gayol seldom has solos his contribution is immense and I love watching him on the drums being the drummer in the quietest rock and roll band in the world. He did have a solo in I Tried To Leave You and everyone cheered when he threw his drumstick in the air and caught it. This was at the end of the second of two wonderful nights of which Cohen and his band well and truly took Manhattan!