Review: Leonard Cohen, Brussels, June 30th 2013

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.

Túr Na nAmhrán: The Cohen Project

When it was announced that there would be a Leonard Cohen tribute with the songs being sung in Irish I was instantly intrigued and immediately booked a ticket. I’m not normally a fan of other people singing Cohen’s song, however I liked the originality of this and went with an open mind to watch and listen to what would unfold on stage. I was also interested to hear Liam Ó Maonlaí singing Cohen’s songs as he has a beautiful haunting voice.

Also on stage with Ó Maonlaí was Hilary Bow and The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra. There was a big screen at the back of the stage where the lyrics and images were projected to help us follow the songs in Irish. The images included photos of Cohen from his entire career and also artist impressions of the lyrics by Margaret Lonergan. The songs had been translated from English to Irish by Liam Ó Muirthile and Gabriel Rosenstock.

Opening with Suzanne and Ó Maonlaí singing I was immediately impressed by everyone on stage. There was a great camaraderie between all the musicians and singers and they were all very accomplished at what they were doing. The singing of the songs was shared between Ó Maonlaí, Bow and the members of the Blake family from The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra. James Blake was standout for me with an excellent rendition of So Long Marianne. Diane Daly on violin was also very impressive and I loved her playing on Bird On The Wire and Famous Blue Raincoat. Hallelujah was the 3rd song of the night with Hilary Bow singing lead vocals. It is well-known in my circle of Cohen friends that as a rule I do not like anyone other than Cohen and Jeff Buckley singing this song. Personally I saw Bow’s performance as blending in with all the other covers, although in the better half of these covers as she does have an incredible voice and did the song justice in not going over the top with her rendition. It was interesting hearing my favourite song sung in Irish!

Other songs performed in the first half included Bird on the Wire, Democracy and Diamonds In The Mine. I was especially impressed with the later which was like So Long Marianne performed by James Blake. During Everybody Knows one of the images used included a photo of the Costa Concordia and a photo of its captain which accompanied the line “Everybody knows the captain lied”. While some in the audience found this funny I personally thought it was in very bad taste and not a good idea in my opinion that it was included. I was also disappointed with Ó Maonlaí’s version of Darkness. He seemed to overdo it and I felt it didn’t fit in with how the song should be interpreted.

I had mixed feelings at the interval having not liked the joke and also the version of Darkness so I was apprehensive when the second half begun. However it was to prove unfounded as I enjoyed all the songs in the second half and there was no more jokes! I was initially surprised when Ó Maonlaí had only performed a couple of songs in the first half. However such was the talent of everyone on stage I was happy that there was balance between the singers and it made for many interesting styles of singing throughout.

My favourite moment of the night came during The Future when my rose photo I took of Cohen in Katowice was used as one of the images during that song. It was a great honour to see the photo on the screen for everyone to see and I made sure to tell the staff afterwards in the hope that Margaret Lonergan would hear that one of the photos she choose was taken by an audience member.

Musically I loved hearing The Partisan in Irish given it is already sung in English and French by Cohen. While I of course know all the words to Cohen’s songs, it wasn’t as easy as I thought to follow them in Irish so I was grateful for the lyrics on-screen to help me translate in my mind. The Tower of Song was one of the highlights with everyone of stage looking happy and even had the organiser of the show dancing in the aisles!

After taking a bow the band returned to position for one final song and indeed one of my favourites, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. This sounded great in Irish and I loved it as a final song.

Leaving aside the couple of niggles in the first half I have to say overall it was a very enjoyable night and I loved hearing Cohen’s songs performed in Irish. Everyone on stage did a great job of honoring his songs and the backdrop where there was often images of Cohen on-screen paid him a great honour. As my Irish is almost non-existent I can’t comment to how accurate the translations were. While leaving the venue I was impressed to hear numerous conversations about the night spoken in Irish and this was from many different groups of people! Heading back to my hotel I hope that this concert won’t be a once off and that Túr Na nAmhrán: The Cohen Project returns to stage in the future.

Setlist:

Suzanne
So Long Marianne
Hallelujah
Bird On The Wire
Democracy
Darkness
Diamonds In The Mine
Everybody Knows
Dance Me To The End Of Love

Anthem
First We Take Manhattan
The Future
Banjo
The Partisan
Famous Blue Raincoat
Tower Of Song

Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye.