Leonard’s antics during Tower of Song in New York, April 6th 2013.
GIF created using photos by Gwen Langford
When the European tour for this year was initially announced Ireland wasn’t on the list and while I was disappointed I was grateful for all the concerts we’ve had here, and had of course the New York and Brussels concerts to look forward too. To say I was ecstatic when Dublin was then announced is an understatement. To have Leonard returning to the venue where I first saw him in concert was something I really relished and after freezing in Kilmainham last year, and as much as I love outdoor concerts it was a relief to know we’d have no incremental weather to disturb us!
I was very excited and a little sad knowing that concerts were the last I will attending this year. I had gotten used to in the last year of having the knowledge of future concerts to look forward to, such is how spoilt we have been by the tour over the last year.
Like in 2009 the lighting director Ryan Murphy bathed the background of the stage in the colours of the Irish flag for us to see as we were coming into the venue. I’ve no knowledge of seeing this anywhere else. That isn’t to say it doesn’t be done at other venues, just that in all the concerts I’ve attended I’ve never seen it anywhere else.
After taking our seats in the fifth row dead centre we awaiting Leonard and his wonderful band to take the stage and when they did it was a great reception from the delighted Irish, and travelling fans, of whom there were many in attendance, from all over the world.
As always Leonard opened with Dance Me To The End Of Love. The set list for the first half of the concert is mostly the same these days so we always have a fairly good idea what is coming next. This never takes away from the excitement for me as I could witness these songs live a thousand times and never bore of them.
After Dance Me To The End Of Love Leonard thanked us all for coming, thanking those in the high seats for climbing up there and those of us at the front for breaking our household budgets in these tough economic times. While the concert tickets are expensive I personally think Leonard is worth every cent as his concerts are longer than nearly everyone except Bruce Springsteen but Leonard has been know to do even longer concerts than Springsteen on occasion and indeed the second Dublin concert was longer than the one Springsteen concert I was at earlier this year. It must not be forgotten that for a man of his age, Leonard will be 79 next week this is a very impressive statistic. Not only are the concerts long they are performed to perfection, and Leonard always gives us as he promises at the start of his concerts everything that he has got. There are no songs I’d call fillers and Leonard is never going through the motions.
I’ve often stated in the past it is hard to pick favourite moments from Leonard’s concerts because everything is performed very well but thinking back to Wednesday night moments from the first half that stand out include Javier Mas introductions to Who By Fire and The Gypsy’s Wife. He is a musical genius on any of the stringed instruments he plays and it is mesmerising watching him perform and while my tired mind can’t remember which night now on one of the nights I had tears streaming down my face during Who By Fire at the beauty of it.
Before Leonard performed Darkness we heard a what is familiar introduction to us for a different song, Ain’t No Cure For Love, where Leonard speaks about looking in the mirrors in his hotel rooms with the magnifiers and how it is a bad idea to look into these after the age of eleven and that he says to him self “Lighten up Cohen” This is normally expanded to include the line that there ain’t no cure for love before beginning the actual song. On Wednesday night he just said and “Now I am going to sing a song about it”. I can’t say if this was a mistake on Leonard’s part or if Darkness was his original intention as the set list for the last few concerts had Darkness in this position but either way I love that introduction from him so was happy to hear it!
Something while rarely fails to move me to tears is anywhere in the concerts where Hattie and Charley Webb are singing and this week was no exception. Their voices are so angelic and it is no wonder Leonard refers to them as the sublime Webb Sisters and his angels. They perform the opening lines to Come Healing and it is achingly beautiful to hear. During the encores they perform If It Be Your Will and for me it is impossible not to be in floods of tears during that performance.
Lover, Lover, Lover brought us to the end of the first half. While I do love the song and if I take this version as a stand alone and not compare it with the original version or the one performed on the previous tour it is brilliant but I do confess I do much prefer when this song is performed at a slower pace and find it much more intimate.
The second half was opened with Tower of Song which is a great opener for the second half. Leonard is very playful during this song on which he plays the keyboards. It never fails to amuse me and having a good reaction from the audience means a very happy Leonard and therefore a very happy Gwen!
It is special to hear Suzanne after this. I’ve always love this song but even more so since visiting Montreal and the location of the line “And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbour”
After Chelsea Hotel #2 we had the wonderful surprise Night Comes On. This song hasn’t being performed live in a while and it is one of my favourites from one of my favourite albums Various Positions.
Sharon Robinson was exquisite singing Alexandra Leaving. This song doesn’t normally bring tears but on Wednesday night it did. At the end of the song she got a much deserved standing ovation from many of us in the audience. It can never be stated enough how important she is to Leonard and indeed to all of us as she has co-written so many of the songs he loves to perform for us and we love to hear.
After Hattie Webb’s solo in Take This Waltz I caught her eye and mouthed “Thank you that was beautiful” and she smiled and mouthed back “Thank you”. I was yet again a tearful wreck. I always get emotional at some point at a Leonard concert but for the two Dublin concerts I was more emotional than usual. I think it was a mixture of the fact they were my final two concerts but also the fact that they were absolutely amazing concerts. Leonard and co for me keep getting better and better. I always think the concerts are perfection but having attended a lot of concerts now I have learned there is always room for improvement and that things can be taken to whole new levels, ones which I didn’t even know existed!
From when I bought my tickets I knew that with my brilliant central location I wouldn’t be able to escape for the encores like I usually do so I stayed put and enjoyed it as much as always. Lots of my favourites are performed. I’ve been lucky to see Leonard in many different locations but I have to say for the audience participation especially during So Long Marianne means that my favourite concerts are the Irish ones. I must state though that I’ve loved all the concerts I’ve attended and to be able to witness the magic is so many locations is something I am truly grateful for and I’ve loved all the different places I’ve visited.
The atmosphere for So Long Marianne didn’t disappoint and it was amazing. A couple of times I glanced around the venue and it was electric seeing the whole place up enjoying it. The reaction to First We Take Manhattan was on a par with New York and reminded me of those concerts.
While it looked like Closing Time might have indeed being closing time Leonard delighted us with performing one last song, I Tried To Leave you. I love when this is done as each band member has a solo. One of my favourite parts is Rafael Gayol’s drum solo where he throws his drumstick in the air and tries to catch it. This time he missed but that made us all smile.
Heading into The O2 for night two my heart was torn with a mixture of excitement for the night to come but also with an ache knowing this was going to be my last concert for the foreseeable future. Please readers know I am truly grateful for all the concerts I had but I’ve never become complacent and Leonard’s concerts and the times I’ve spent speaking with him are the best moments of my life.
This was an extremely emotional concert for me and in my opinion very very close to Lissadell as one of the most special concerts I’ve attended. Between a new song, the return of one of my absolute favourites Anthem, actual funny hecklers and Leonard’s closing words it made for what I can only describe as a magical recipe of perfection.
The first song to have me in tears was Bird On The Wire. Again like Who By Fire the previous night I don’t usually cry during this song but it is one of my favourites and in what I call my top five of Hallelujah, So Long Marianne, Anthem and Famous Blue Raincoat. What made this song so special Thursday night was what was an astoundingly amazing performance from Leonard. It is always performed well but I remember thinking at the first night in Montreal Leonard had taken it to a whole new level. Well Thursday night he done it again and so much so my friend and I turned to each other in amazement at the end and said something along the lines “That was out of this world” to each other.
There was no repeat of the “introduction” to Darkness on Thursday but I should make a note of a chant Leonard does to Raphael Gayol during this song. No one has any idea of what this means as I did ask a couple of the crew members who said no one has asked Leonard what it is or what it means!
I was on cloud nine when Leonard performed Anthem at the end of the first half on Thursday. I was heartbroken when I saw it dropped from recent concerts. That song is very significant to me personally and I think it is the perfect song for that part of the concert.
The antics during Tower Of Song were again very amusing with hecklers adding to Leonard. I can’t remember now what was shouted up but at the time found it hilarious. Hopefully a video will appear to remind me!
After Chelsea Hotel #2 on Thursday Leonard had an extra special treat for us, a new song called I’ve Got A Secret. I didn’t recognise the melody but immediately recognised some of the lyrics. While I couldn’t place them at that moment on returning to the hotel I investigated and discovered that they were some of the lyrics from what I call the second version of Feels So Good which we’d heard in Toronto. Speaking with Hattie Webb after I mentioned this and she told me she hadn’t made that connection and was very impressed that I did! On that first listen to the song I immediately loved it. The melody has a lovely jazz feel to it.
As much as I love Leonard singing I also love when he recites A Thousand Kisses Deep. I recorded this on both nights but missed the first few words the first night so had to try again. I’m glad I did though as it was unique the second night when Leonard had a false start due to a lady in the row behind us yelling “Leonard I’m your woman”. Normally someone yelling during this would be on the receiving end of a glare from me but given it was the start it was funny and anything that makes Leonard smile makes me smile.
As it is my all time favourite song from Leonard Hallelujah is always my ultimate highlight at the concerts. He puts passion into every song but seems to do more so in this song and for me I think the Thursday version is my all time favourite rendition. Of course the tears were flowing and more so as it is my last live performance but the tears didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the song.
Like the previous night given my central location I didn’t think I would be able to escape to the front for the encores. However seeing a huge gap directly in front of the seats I asked the person in front would she mind me climbing over the seats to which she kindly allowed and for the first couple of songs of the encores I was in the second row of standing pilgrims but then a gap appeared which allowed me to be at the very front almost centre for the last few songs. This was very special for me as the last time I was that close to Leonard as he performed was during the encores in Katowice 2010. Being that close for especially So Long Marianne and Famous Blue Raincoat is great. It means we can see the glances between Leonard and his band and also experience a up close view of the wonderful musicians.
There was a funny moment for me when having developed a sore throat and lungs from the singing along and the dry ice I was spending ages rooting in my bag for throat sweets. Having eventually found them buried under my jacket I looked up to see a confused look from Charley Webb as to what was I doing. I held them up and touched my neck to demonstrate and she smiled down at me.
It must be noted that the musicians I haven’t mentioned personally throughout this review were just as amazing as they always are. I’m just aware this is a very long review and I hope my readers enjoy it. I think I just want to have a record of as many moments of these two concerts as I can! Just to mention though Alexandru Bublitchi performances on the violin are always breathtaking and I always appreciate the contribution by the musical director and bassist Roscoe Beck.
After having Anthem as a extra song I thought maybe we’d get a shorter encore but no Leonard actually gave us an extra song there too with Save The Last Dance. While I always prefer hearing Cohen’s songs over covers I was very happy to get this as an extra at the end. Also I am rarely a fan of listening to covers preferring the originals,but maybe it my love of Leonard but I actually prefer his version to the original!
Leaving The O2 on Thursday night I couldn’t have wished for more over the two nights. We had a total of 60 songs performed, 31 different ones between the two nights. Leonard and his band never fail to deliver but on these nights he gave us everything he got and more. His closing words after Closing Time on Thursday were very special and we could tell he enjoyed these concerts as much as we do. I never thought I’d witness a concert to be on a par with magical Lissadell but the Thursday concert especially is up there for me.
Thank you to Leonard, your wonderful band and crew for giving us the most memorable nights. If these do turn out to be my final concerts I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. For now I take forth the memories and will be eternally grateful to do so.
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!
When it was announced that Adam Cohen would be playing in concert in Brussels on August 13th on the free day for us between his father Leonard Cohen’s concerts that we were attending in Ghent we couldn’t resist the chance to be there as it was only an hour on the train between the two cities. Cohen was playing as part of the Brussels Summer Festival in a tent called Magic Mirrors.
After arriving good and early so I would be at the front everyone was sitting relaxing when Cohen and his two band members Michael Chaves and Mai Bloomfield came on stage. I was very surprised when everyone remained sitting and initially that annoyed me as sitting on the floor isn’t very comfortable for me. However after a while I came to enjoy this as it added a very intimate feel to the concert and I was pleased to see Cohen had attracted a decent crowd as the act before his hadn’t!
Cohen was on stage for an hour and we got to hear songs from his album Like A Man including Lie Alone, Sweet Dominique and Beautiful which he wrote for his son. I hadn’t listened to this album in a while so it was like revisiting an old friend and I really enjoyed it.
For anyone who had been at his father’s concert the previous night there were two very special treats awaiting us. After the first song Cohen asked us would we prefer he spoke in English or French and when there seemed to be an equal number if shouts he decided to speak in French so I didn’t really understand what he was saying when he mentioned his father but when I heard him say the words Mike Scoble I was delighted as he is both Cohen’s tour managers and the previous night he had joined Leonard Cohen on stage for Darkness where he played harmonica. This time he joined Adam Cohen, again on harmonica but this time to perform Leonard Cohen’s song Tower Of Song. As a rule I am not a fan of people singing Leonard’s songs, however for Adam I make an exception as I love him as a singer too and feel that he gets how his father’s songs should be treated!
As special as this moment was it was nothing to what our next treat was. Again Cohen was speaking French but when I heard the words Javier Mas I could hardly contain my excitement. Mas is a full time member of Leonard Cohen’s band and is the master of stringed instruments and is famous in concert at playing amazing solos especially during Who By Fire. He joined Adam Cohen on stage to perform another of his father’s songs and indeed one of my favourites, So Long Marianne. It sounded amazing and watching from such a close location was a very special moment for me. I had spoken to Javier Mas earlier in the day and that added to the magic of the moment.
These moments and once again seeing Adam Cohen in concert made for a memorable evening which was topped off after with as he often does a meet and greet with anyone who wished to speak with him. I was very touched when he remembered me from our last meeting. I also spoke briefly to Michael Chaves, a gentleman. It always impresses me how the Cohen’s musicians and crews are as amazing as they are. The whole evening was very enjoyable and we left Brussels to go back to Ghent with great memories to take with us.