Friday, April 24, 2009

Leonard Cohen

In "Anthem," one of his best songs, Leonard Cohen sings that "there is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." Be that as it may, it was hard to discern any cracks in last night's performance at Seattle's WAMU Theatre. There was, however, plenty of light.

The 73-year Cohen literally bounded onto the stage shortly after 8 p.m. and commenced a three-hour show with "Dance Me To The End Of Love." When he sang "Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long," he made promise to the audience that he kept in spades. The word "audience," though, implies a distance between performer and spectator that Cohen spanned with ease: By the end of the evening, we were participants in an event that summoned forth a state of grace and conferred it on all there.

The six-piece band along with singers Sharon Robinson (also Cohen's collaborator on several songs) and the Webb Sisters constantly astonished with their talent, precision, and commitment to the material. Javier Mas' oud and 12-string playing stood out, as did the harmonies of Robinson and Charlie and Hattie Webb, but the entire band created to a flowing melange of nearly unclassifiable sound. While the singers contributed soulful underpinnings to Mas' Spanish-folk-classical inflections, the woodwinds (including a bassoon!) of Dino Soldo, Roscoe Beck's bass, Bob Metzger's guitar, and Rafael Bernardo Gayol's drums laid down a jazzy groove. Meanwhile, Neil Larson's keyboards veered between soul and jazz as needed. And in front of it all, Leonard Cohen sang his timeless lyrics of love and fear, faith and doubt, hope and despair. In "Tower of Song," he pokes fun at his "golden voice," but that voice is perfect for his words and these arrangements. For an idea of last night's proceedings, here's an audience video of "Everybody Knows," filmed less than a week ago:

Everyone there will have their own favorite moments. In the first set, I especially enjoyed his passionate reading of "Bird On A Wire," his magnanimous tribute to Hank Williams in the first verse of "Tower Of Song," and the full-band treatment of "Anthem." For me, though, the best moment of that set was "Chelsea Hotel," Cohen's account of an amorous encounter with Janis Joplin. By turns witty and wistful, by the end of the song, he seemed to be appealing directly to Janis' lost spirit.

He rolled out welcome surprises in the second set, including a recitation of "A Thousand Kisses Deep," and an aggressive version of "The Partisan," his great song of resistance. "Hallelujah" brought the house to a standing ovation, as did the closing "Take This Waltz," his version of a Federico Garcia Lorca poem. And of course he squeezed in "Suzanne" and "So Long, Marianne" as well.

Patrons who skipped the extended encore missed an especially moving "Sisters of Mercy" and an aching version of "If It Be Your Will," in when Cohen recited the opening verse then turned the song over to the gorgeous harmonies of the Webb Sisters, who accompanied themselves on guitar and harp. Cohen, as he did all evening whenever one of the band members took the spotlight, graciously stood aside and removed his hat as they sang.

He closed with the delightfully ironic "I Tried To Leave You":
Goodnight, my darling, I hope you're satisfied,
the bed is kind of narrow, but my arms are open wide.
And here's a man still working for your smile.
Finally, the band and crew joined together on stage for a lovely rendition of "Whither thou goest." All evening long, Leonard Cohen had worked for our smile and got and given so much more...


First Set
Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Ain't No Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

Second Set
Tower of Song
The Gypsy’s Wife
The Partisan
Boogie Street
I’m Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep (recitation)
Take This Waltz

So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
Closing Time
I Tried to Leave You
Whither Thou Goest

How JazzFest is resurrecting NOLA: This story is so inspiring that it gave me both chills and hope for the human race...

Cardinal encantation: Another great bird picture from New Orleans Daily Photo...

Friday's Choice: Leonard Cohen's 1988 rendition of "Take This Waltz," with his introduction explaining his discovery of Garcia Lorca's poetry:


Roy said...

Sounds like a great concert, K!

BTW, that instrument Javier Mas is playing in that video of "Everybody Knows" is a Cuban laúd, a descendant of the medieval and Renaissance lute, which in turn is descended from the Arab oud. This is the instrument that Barbarito Torres, with the Buena Vista Social Club band, plays.

John Hayes said...

Sounds like quite show-- great set lists, & 3 sets is really great; really gives you a chance to get into the music thoroughly. & a bassoon! wow.

Some favorites on the set list, esp. Bird on the Wire, Take this Waltz, Famous Blue Raincoat & Sisters of Mercy from the encore. Great stuff.

K. said...

It was an amazing show. I'm certain it's the best I'll see this year.

Melinda said...

but Paul, you left out the weeping, the sore throat from holding it back, and the fact that, although I was close to home, it took most of an hour to find my way, I was in such a "state." Not to mention the hours it took for finally fall asleep...
What a night.

K. said...

Well, you did for me!

Anonymous said...

I went out and bought a fedora today. Seeing the concert last night really inspired me...those ladies wore it well, hopefully I can pull it off, too.

It was a great show. I feel blessed to have seen him.

Linda said...

Thanks for the preview! Looking forward to seeing him here, north of the border next month!!
What a great review!!

K. said...

Thanks, Linda! You will not be disappointed.