Having spent a fortune seeing Leonard Cohen in concert over the last year and funds starting to run low I had to decide on one European mainland location and when Brussels was announced for the day after my birthday it was decision made to go there.
I’ve being dismayed with how since late last year Cohen concerts have been delayed due to the audience not being in their seats at the scheduled time so it made me determined to arrive extremely early and got there before the doors even opened. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the venue after hearing negative reports but on entering was pleased to see it didn’t look too bad and our seats were in a great location, 3rd row directly in front of Javier Mas.
After the delay to allow the seats to be sufficiently filled Cohen and his band came on stage to a massive cheer by a delighted audience. After the opening song Dance Me To The End Of Love Cohen thanked us for coming and to those in the high seats for climbing to those high places and for those of us at the front for paying so dearly. As always every song performed was amazing and every song a highlight. In the opening half my favourites included Who By Fire. I don’t know if it was my close proximity to Javier Mas but for me it was my all time personal favourite rendition. Mas is a musical genius and his solo at the start this song gave me goose-bumps. I also loved the extended applause after his solo and when Hattie Webb joined in on the harp and Roscoe Beck on stand up bass. This applause lasted for the entire first verse. I never witnessed this before and on reading the No Ideas blog from technician Leif Bodnarchuk I see he has never witnessed it either.
Hallelujah aside, my other favourite moment was when Cohen recited A Thousand Kisses Deep. I adore this and Cohen doesn’t normally quote it at non-English speaking countries so I was delighted and moved to tears when he did it, focusing completely and soaking it in. Other first half highlights included an as always sublime performance of Bird On The Wire and Lover, Lover, Lover. I do confess I prefer the version sung on the previous tour but judging this version on its own merits it is great and I love the new arrangement at the start of the song. We found it amusing when Cohen started chanting nearing the end of Darkness as we have no idea of why he is doing it but it adds an air of mystery and makes for a good discussion after the concert! Maybe someone reading this can explain it to me. We were also discussing the line change in Anthem from “the dove is never free” to “the dove is always free”.
As always Cohen opened the second half with Tower Of Song and like we had witnessed in New York is continuing to joke about his keyboard abilities and running his elbows along the keys. Having looked at the set lists for recent concerts and seeing both Sisters Of Mercy and Heart With No Companion I had prayed they would remain for this concert so was delighted when they did. As Brussels is a French speaking country La Manic and The Partisan were both performed and received a huge reception from the audience. I love when during The Partisan Neil Larsen comes down from being the organ and keyboards to play the accordion.
Sharon Robinson as always was amazing when singing Alexandra Leaving. Hallelujah as usual for me was my absolute highlight and the final song of the second half Take This Waltz, with an as usual exquisite solo from Hattie Webb and hauntingly beautiful violin playing from Alexandru Bublitchi was great.
As Cohen did his band introductions at the end of Take This Waltz some of us raced to the barriers. The barriers were closer to the stage than in Dublin last year, so I really enjoyed being the closest I have been to Cohen as he performed, since Katowice in 2010 for the encores. While I did of course love the Canadian and New York concerts I do admit I missed being able to stand in front of the stage singing along to So Long Marianne, First We Take Manhattan and Closing Time. These songs all got a great reception with lots of interaction from the crowd which pleased everyone on stage. The crowd reaction after an as always excellent Famous Blue Raincoat was so loud we could barely hear Cohen speak after it!
I understand the times when to be quiet at a Cohen concert but there was one person who in the tiers didn’t and it didn’t go down well with me or those around me when he started shouting when Cohen was reciting at the start of If It Be Your Will. The Webb Sisters as usual though were outstanding singing this and also as usual for this song I couldn’t stem the flow of tears.
I always love when I Tried To Leave You is in the set list as it includes solo’s from the entire band. My favourite part of this is Rafael Gayol’s solo where he throws his drumstick in the air and catches it. For the encores I enjoyed being able to see Mitch Watkins as he was hidden from my view for most of the concert. However I still appreciated his input and enjoyed hearing his contribution and especially during Bird On The Wire.
The actual songs aside I just loved the entire feel of this concert. Cohen and everyone on stage was in great form with lots of smiles in appreciation to the audience reception. With the exception of the one person shouting I thought the crowd to be excellent and it always makes me feel good when I am a part of such crowds. I felt this was a very special concert where especially with the slower songs in the gentle way they were performed. In trying to put this feeling into words and thinking about it the only description coming to mind is that of sitting near water and the songs being like waves, soft and soothing during the slow songs and then more powerful but still breathtaking during the faster songs. It was simply magical and a night I’ll never forget.
When I thought my weekend in Brussels having my birthday and a concert the following day couldn’t get better on the Monday it did. After going sight-seeing we were exiting a metro station when I spotted a burger restaurant in front of us and even though we had planned to eat later we decided to go in. After getting our food and sitting down I was looking out the window when I spotted a woman and thought to myself she looks very like Leonard’s PA. Then I saw him and couldn’t believe our luck. Mandy thought I was joking when I said “Leonard is outside” and asked me was I sure and then saw him herself. We went outside and stayed a distance away as never would we dare to approach Leonard while he was eating. When he finished he got up and walked in our direction. He was very happy to see us and thanked us for coming.
After getting a few photos we talked about the previous night and the songs we loved hearing. I mentioned A Thousand Kisses Deep and how I wasn’t expecting it as he doesn’t normally do it at non-English speaking countries and he agreed with me and said that on Sunday night he felt like doing it and was happy I enjoyed it. I also told him I was happy to hear Sisters Of Mercy and Heart With No Companion and of course as always Hallelujah. Mandy also mentioned the songs she enjoyed most. After this Leonard told us we are great friends and we said our goodbyes wishing him well on the rest of the tour. It made for a wonderful memory for us to take with us and treasure forever.