Thursday, 30 August 2012

Leonard Cohen - 5 lessons from the master

Olympisch Stadion, 21 August 2012

Leonard Cohen is one of the greats. In a career that spans 45 years the man has done it all, and I’m pretty sure he has won enough awards and accolades that he doesn’t need me or this blog to tell him just how good he is. So instead, here are the 5 things that I learnt from the master at his show in Amsterdam last week:

1. There is something in the water at the old people’s home;
As this blog suggests, we go to a lot of live shows. And I would say on average you are lucky for a show to go for more than 2 hours. Yet here is Leonard Cohen, at 77, knocking out a 3 hours set. And even at the end of his two, one and a half hour sets, he was hugging his big clock and explaining that there was a sound curfew in Amsterdam and the band were about to be switched off. As the below set-list (pinched from his tour blog) suggests, he actually had to cut out songs to finish by 11.30. And not just a couple of songs, at least another 30 minutes worth.

Between this and what I read of the recent Bruce Springsteen tour, these old guys are just amazing and putting the new kids to shame. Admittedly their back catalogue does allow them to play a lot more songs than a newer band. But even still, if I can do that night after night when I am 77 – sign me up to whatever he’s having!

2. They just don’t make fans like they used to;
13,000 people sitting in an open air stadium can hardly be called intimate, yet that is the way his fans treated it. I have never been to a show where people brought gifts and flowers to throw on stage. And not just a couple of people, by the end of the night the stage looked like a war memorial on Remembrance Day. People just don’t do that anymore. In fact, I really don’t know if they ever did, I can only assume this is some kind of old school star treatment?

I have seen people buy drinks for performers at some smaller venues. I have even seen drinks thrown at performers from time to time. But I have never seen this kind of pre-show preparation or in-show dedication before. The big man is obviously used to it and seemed to take it all in his stride, at one point bending down and singing to a rose stem that had lost its actual flower - all to the great amusement of the crowd and resembling some kind of scene from the Adams Family.

Having read quite a lot of discussions on his fan page (see point 5 below), I am also both impressed and slightly amused that his fans tend to refer to him as Mr. Cohen. What a fantastic show of respect for this legend. There cannot be many people in the music industry that can pull that off.

3. If you’re going to sing into your 70’s, make it deep;
It doesn’t matter in which decade you became a Leonard Cohen fan, or even when you first heard one of his songs – there is no doubt that the biggest thing you remember is the sound of his voice. It is just so unique. Having seen a couple of other legends come through Amsterdam over the past couple of years, in Joe Cocker and Brian Wilson, I was really impressed that Mr. Cohen’s voice has barely lost anything.

While Joe still had a lot to offer, it was clear he relied on his band for some of it, as opposed to Brian who really just sat in and watched a great cover band play his classic songs. But Mr. Cohen is still the real deal. He moved around the stage with amazing grace for a 77 year old man and his voice remains unique and amazingly consistent.

What is the lesson for the punters out there who are thinking about a long, and I mean really long career? Forget about your high pitched beach boys harmonies and keep it low and deep. Sorry Geddy Lee and Axl Rose, you’re out. But maybe we will be seeing Nick Cave or Matt Berninger from The National in another 20-30 years?

4. Maybe I should start reading poetry:
I often think fleeting thoughts about starting new hobbies, sports or fitness regimes. But rarely do I feel inspired to start reading poetry. And yet the more I listen to Mr. Cohen, the more I study his lyrics and read of his history, the more I think I need to read some poetry. I have always had an interest in words and lyrics but never have I seen such use expressions and turns of phrase. Even his on-stage spoken word addressing the crowd or his fellow band members puts my written words to shame. Perhaps spending more time studying his poetry will have some positive influence on my own creations?

5. Become a member of a fan club;
I don’t go to a lot of seated concerts, but without a doubt these were the best seats I have ever had - 4th row back, almost centre stage. And I owe it all to being a member of the Leonard Cohen fan club, or more specifically the great work they do in getting their members the opportunity to be able to buy pre-sale tickets.

I am not sure how common this is amongst bigger artists but I can’t recommend it enough or give a big enough thank you to the people who must have done a bunch of work behind the scenes to make something like that possible for so many shows across Europe. Anyway, here is a plug for them ( – check out their forum, there is a lot of interesting information on there if you’re a fan.

At 77 it’s hard to say how many tours Mr. Cohen has left in him. All I can say is that if you have the opportunity and the means, grab it with both hands. Not only are you guaranteed a memorable night witnessing a legend first hand, you also never know what you might learn.

PS - if you like great video work by JV, we have made a playlist of the concert HERE

1 comment:

  1. we've just seen him in Bucharest. what a magnificent show it was!!!