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.