As I've written about before, I am not really into music all that much. I know that for some people that is akin to saying "eh, oxygen, I can take it or leave it." I enjoy music but it never really occurs to me to put it on so yeah, I guess I can generally take it or leave it. That being said, there have always been three bands/artists to see in concert on my bucket list: 1. Bob Dylan (done, Bell Center, Montreal, 2007(?) ). 2. Leonard Cohen and 3. U2.
The way my life is right now I would have expected it far more likely that I would see Barney in concert (does he tour??) before getting to numbers 2 and 3 on my list. Nonetheless there I was in the Bell Center on November 29 seeing Leonard Cohen live for the first time. My love affair with Leonard goes back to my teen years when my BFF and I were equally obsessed with the dark poet. I recall one summer night coming home around 11 pm from the lab where I was doing my masters at the time to an excited voice mail from BFF saying "I'm on Saint Laurent and he's here. Leonard. Leonard! He's at the corner on Saint Laurent and Marie Anne headed northbound. It's 6.45 pm so if you get this message soon head over this way and call me on my cell phone." Who knows what would have transpired had four hours not gone by before I heard the message. Perhaps it would not have been 15 years before I got to see Leonard in person.
So yeah, I don't know much about music. Or poetry. And let's face it, Leonard is just as much about poetry as he is about music. But this concert exceeded my greatest hopes. Almost 2 weeks later, I am still lingering over the lasting mental images and enjoying them and trying to figure out what was so magical about the experience. (you know PPC, if it's worth doing, it's worth analyzing into oblivion).
First, he is a generous performer. He started at 8 pm (no one opened for him, bonus) and he played until just past 11.30 pm with only one brief (and punctual intermission). He had what seemed like a ten piece emsemble with him which resulted in rich and varied sounds. Again, know nothing about music, but I think he had a bass (that's the cello but bigger right?), harp, piano-organ, drums, violin (fiddle? are they the same?), 12 string guitar, other guitar, three back up vocalists and I am sure I am forgetting some. Every musician got a solo (and I guess that is par for the course) but during the solos Leonard turned to the musician and took off his hat to them and really drew attention towards them. Even the drummer got a solo and if you're not familiar with Leonard's stuff then you'll have to take my word that it is not exactly drum solo kind of music.
The other thing that struck me about this concert is that it truly was all about the music. The set was minimal, it consisted of an oriental carpet. The lighting was basic and served only to highlight the soloists and Leonard himself. The back-up singers (all women) were dressed in staid black suits, nothing sexy, distracting or provocative...they were treated as artists. There were no crazy costume changes and only very minimalistic dancing. The star of the show was without question the music and lyrics, Ironically Justin Beaver played in the same venue a few nights prior; I can't imagine there was any overlap in the audience!
It was fascinating to watch Leonard move. At 78 years old, he can still do a shuffle and a soulful kneel with the best of them. He had three or four basic moves which he used very effectively to express the music. When he closes and eyes and kneels, you really believe it is because he is so engrossed in the words melody. Finally he was unexpectedly humorous and self effacing. Upon returning from intermission he looked out at the audience and said "thanks for not going home. I really appreciate it." and while I am sure he has said this at every concert he has been forced to do since he was swindled out of his life savings (oh, yes... read about it here) it came across as genuine astonishment.
Finally, I would not have thought it possible but he found a song more appropriate than "closing time" on which to ehd the show.
Here are some links to some of the highlights of the show: Hallelujah, Closing Time, Everybody Knows.