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Leonard Cohen Australian Tour

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
I enjoy "fine dining", presenting programs on radios 4MBS, MBS Light and 4RPH and going to drama and music at Brisbane theatres.
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Leonard Cohen: wonderful after all these years
The Entertainment Centre is not noted for its atmosphere, with more of the feeling of a warehouse than a concert hall. For the Leonard Cohen concert the audience seemed mostly over 50 (some comfortably more) with a greater incidence of long hair, colourful shirts, beards and jeans than seemed statistically probable.

The lights went down, and then, in silhouette, the familiar stick-like figure in a suit and hat skipped on to stage. The gravelly voice whispered a welcome, and evoked a chuckle as he waxed eloquent about Brisbane tunnels. "We'll give you everything we've got," he promised – and he did – a 79 year old man on stage for three hours or so, and giving every sign of relishing it.

Image by Rama via Wikipedia

Dance Me to the End of Love began. Sometimes kneeling, sometimes bent double, almost always with eyes closed, Cohen intones rather than sings his songs. The difference between this show and the earlier Cohen is the backing, and the meditative mellowness of the new material. Songs from his latest album Old Ideas morph into familiar lyrics to which the audience quietly sings along, relishing in both the old and the new the beauty of superbly crafted lines.

And the atmosphere builds.

Smoke rises from the stage like incense, and there is more than a little of the guru and the Old Testament prophet about Cohen.

Sometimes supporting him, sometimes soaring to the fore, are the singers (so much more than a backing group) Charlie and Hattie Webb, who sing a delicately harmonised If It Be Your Will late in the set (also playing guitar and Irish harp), and Sharon Robinson, who has co-written some of his latest songs. His musicians are superlative performers.

"Leonard's instructions to me were very simple," Roscoe Beck, his musical director recalls. "He said, 'I only want the best band on the road this year.' To which I replied, 'Great, no pressure.'"

He delivers.

Who will forget Javier Mas taking the melody away in mesmerising variations on the theme, on the 12-string guitar and traditional Spanish instruments the bandurria, the laud and the archilaud during the course of the evening?

It is these singers, and these musicians, who help to add the melody and the magic to what could otherwise have become a mesmeric but flattening sound from Cohen. It is what helps to make Hallelujah new again – and drove the audience to their feet.

There is magic, and there is depth. Cohen shares his struggles and his pain and his enigmatic visions of the numinous, all with a self-deprecation that defuses any pretentiousness.

The religious themes are all there – redemption, repentance, grace mixed with an awareness of the randomness of life:

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

All the familiar favourites are there – So Long Marianne, Suzanne, I'm Your Man, Everybody Knows, Chelsea Hotel, Who by Fire. But breaking in were the new and less familiar, that almost immediately became an unforgettable part of the canon:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

And when he speaks, and recites his songs, there is an awed silence as deep speaks to deep:

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Nearly three hours later Cohen skipped off stage to a standing ovation which left no doubt that the audience wanted more. The three encores (or was it more – I lost count) included Sharon Robinson's stunning rendition of Alexandra Leaving – perhaps her only opportunity of the evening to show-case her beautiful contralto voice, and her mastery of pacing and communicating a song. Cohen, aware of his reputation as a guru, sings:

I love to speak with Leonard
He's a sportsman and a shepherd
He's a lazy bastard
Living in a suit…

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he's really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube.

Knowing as we do (for he has shared them) some of his struggles and his pains, we can only wish him (and us) the benediction that he sings near the end of the show:

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

Going home
Without the sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it's better
Than before

We are left with memories of superlative musicians enhancing the vision of an enigmatic, idiocyncratic wordsmith with a unique and unforgettable voice.

Leonard Cohen will perform in Australian and New Zealand on the following dates:

Monday 2 December Sydney at Sydney Opera House
Saturday 7 December Geelong at The Hill Winery
Monday 9 December Melbourne at Palais Theatre
Wednesday 11 December Adelaide at Entertainment Centre
Saturday 14 December Christchurch at CBS Canterbury Arena
Tuesday 17 December Wellington at TSB Bank Arena
Saturday 21 December Auckland at Vector Arena.
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Why? Nostalgia, sheer musicality, depth and fun
Cost: $95 - $395
Your Comment
I was there, for my third and I believe most theraputic dose of Leonard. He gets me every time. I am under 50 and was delighted to see a good number of younger people there amongst the older set.we all came away lifted and buzzing with energy and warmth. Thanks for this article and sharing some of his lyrics/ poetry.
by Loni Mills (score: 1|24) 1804 days ago
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