peteg's blog - noise - music - 2009 01 31 LeonardCohen

Leonard Cohen

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Back in November I blew a significant chunk of my first paycheck as a contractor on tickets to see the big man, one for me, one for Pete R.. It was a difficult calculation, for on the one hand we needed to be close enough to check that he really was breathing, and on the other not so close that we were surrounded by silvertailed boomers. The compromise was second-tier seats and it turned out well, though from what I heard we would've also been OK if we'd braved the Entertainment Centre version of the same.

We'd planned to head up around midday, thinking it'd take about two hours and there'd be plenty of time to swan about on the way. As it was we were lucky to get there by 5:30pm, midway through a set by Paul Kelly that was having a marginal impact on a beautiful summer's afternoon. An earlier stop at a pub in Cessnock had allowed us to gauge how congenial the locals were, and I could readily imagine the town going all Wayne McLennan later in the evening.

After fortuitously dumping the car at a crossroads about a kilometre up the road, we hoofed it past the vineyards and slipped past the affable security lady at the gates of Bimbadgen Estate. She had no cause to be so affable; indeed, it was as if she hadn't been briefed on the uptight tosh on the website: why no cheese knives or softdrink? Only unopened water? ... and yes, we're already resigned to fattening the promoter's pockets by forking out large for booze at the venue, so none of that either. Surely the steep ticket prices and Leonard Cohen himself already keep the riff-raff out; there was no need for the conditions of entry to read like those for visiting hours at Long Bay.

We settled down in our pews up the back of the seated area. Leonard Cohen appeared promptly and got straight into it. He played almost everything I wanted to hear in the first half, including a beautiful rendition of Anthem. (Ultimately he played the entirety of the playable from The Future, apart from my favourite Waiting for the Miracle. He emphasised its absence by referring to his long-time collaborator as the co-author of that tune. Perverse.) The crowd was huge and exploded on the thinest pretexts. The sun set, spraying red against a cirrus front, and nobody noticed.

Pete had wriggled his way through the wrinkles to the gold-plated section, and reappeared at the break. I was worried that he hadn't drank enough but he said he was OK. We both felt a bit sorry for those up the back, getting lost in those hopeless huge screens, as the wind had blown Paul Kelly's noise around. No-one seemed particularly put out though.

The hit list continued: The Future (with Leonard losing interest in anal sex, or perhaps taking Australians for Americans, preferring it casual, but happy enough to be the white man dancing), Chelsea Hotel, Famous Blue Raincoat, In My Secret Life and so forth. I was shocked — shocked, I tell you! — to hear a slightly-too-fast First We Take Manhattan, which I'd thought to be off limits since Joe Cocker's cover. They sentenced me to sixty days of boredom... indeed. I was hugely amused when he switched on the pre-programmed synth for Tower of Song, perhaps the musically lamest thing he's ever served up. Strangely the lyrics are quality and don't spoil the cheese.

There were a couple of bones thrown to the old fans, played quickly and resolutely, before returning to such general crowd pleasers as Democracy. At this point I realised I was going to also get dudded out of The Stranger Song, which I would've thought perfect for the times. Pete got right into The Gypsy's Wife.

The band was excellent, especially the Spanish guitarist and miscellaneous wind instrument bloke. The guitarists and keyboard player, backing vocalists, drummer... the sound mix was perfect. I hope someone is recording all these gigs and they release an update of the classic CD from 1994. In fact Leonard seemed sprightly enough to crank out another disc or two of original material on top of that.

Upon the fall of the last note, Pete and I did the runner back to the car and hightailed it back to Coogee. It was all so splendid that one almost wishes that his current manager is ripping him off so we can do it all again next year.

Update: Salon ran a decent review of a few of his concerts in the U.S. in April.