Recently on a beautiful night in Madrid I didn’t need to cross my fingers and hope, I had seen the show previously, I just waited patiently for the timeless performer to arrive and deliver what everyone was else was hoping to see.
As I waited I thought, “two times in three months”, now that is not the worst statement you can make when you are talking about the number of times you have seen a musical icon. Furthermore, add to that the fact that the first time was in your adopted home city and the second time was in Spain, it’s at about that point that you realize that life can’t be going that bad.
The first time I saw Leonard Cohen in Amsterdam I was blown away. Here is a 78 year old being a consummate professional, giving his all, and playing everything that has put him on the map. I mean if anyone was allowed to start to slow down and take it easy surly it should be him, but that is not his style. He shows all the energy and vibrancy of a 25 year old and doesn’t want to disappoint anyone.
This time around in Madrid was going to be different from Amsterdam, that would be for sure, but that would be in a good way. Leonard is not the type of performer who would just give the exact same performance night after night. Call it blind faith, call it what you will, I just had a feeling that this would be the case. And here was me believing this even though I new that my seats were right at the back, probably where the sound would be average at best, and where I was very unlikely to see much at all. And why was I still so confident, well that is because this is Leonard Cohen, and his professionalism would show no bounds, that was exhibited to the nth degree last time, so why should this show be any different?
On a very positive note, this gig would be in a warm climate, where I could enjoy the outdoors, food and cervezas. Also he has a Spaniard playing in his band, so surly the crowd would show their appreciation and lots of warmth to the entire band.
Upon arrival we found confirmation that we would be seated up with the Gods, but when you are watching a living legend play then you have to take the good with the bad.
I go to gigs all the time and I think that I am probably able to count on one hand the number of times that I have seen what I believe to be truly professional performers. This got me to thinking about what was it that made me think a performer is professional. I think a lot of performers these days write a catchy song, end up playing to large audience and believe it is all about them, not Leonard Cohen, that’s for sure. This would be made evident to me both times I was lucky enough to see him.
I don’t think that it is enough to just play, what a performer needs to do is convince the crowd that he/ they are playing for everyone in that concert venue. Leonard did that. Preferably the performance needs to leave no stone unturned, that is to play all or a majority of the hits. With this if the audience believes that the performer has, or is giving there all, then rapturous applause will ring out at every available break in the music furthermore they will be compelled to clap, whistle, cheer, yell, stamp their feet and demand more for not one but preferably two or three encores (for the record the show in Madrid had three encores and still the crowd hoped for more).
When a performer is truly loved by his fans there can be public moments of affection from the audience and this happened regularly in the form of presents, messages and flowers being thrown on stage, Leonard collected many of these and appeared touched at times, and took them back stage or gave them to a stage hand to put back stage for him. One particularly beautiful moment in one of the Amsterdam shows a lady walk out of the audience and placed a scarf emblazed with the Jewish “Star of David” on the railing in front of the stage, Leonard was touched by this and motioned to his heart whist engaging with the lady.
The performer also needs to hit the mark with all of his songs and equally important is that the band needs to not miss a beat and ensure that each of their parts is faultless. And Leonard’s band is faultless. Who were they I hear you ask, well that is a very good question.
The band consisted of Mitch Watkins on Guitar, or should I say several guitars. I had previously seen Mitch play with Lyle Lovett and he never missed a moment to show what he’s got and his time with Leonard has been no different.
On the Drums was Rafael Gayol his timing was impeccable and whilst not being the flashiest performers it is evident that he had all the goods. He kept all the band perfectly in time and never missed a beat (pardon the pun).
On Keyboards and occasionally accordion was Neil Larsen. Wow Neil is no slouch having played on over 150 albums with the like being George Harrison, BB King and the Rolling Stones just to name a few. He was a fantastic addition to this touring band and one who performed brilliantly over both the shows I saw.
On Bass guitar was Roscoe Beck and in some ways it was he who was running the show on the night or at least the logistics. Roscoe was also the producer and Leonard turned to him several times just to get confirmation of the order or maybe (in Amsterdam) how many songs they were aloud to go on for. Roscoe’s fun bass style ensured that the songs had an enjoyable aspect to them and kept all the band members smiling.
Other than Leonard, the band member that got the most applause on the night in Madrid would be Javier Mas. Yes it is true he heralded from Spain, (Zaragoza) but to be truthful it was his exquisite use of the 12 string guitar and the beautiful undertones of the flamenco style that nearly made everyone weep. It was truly inspiring to say the least.
The artist that I was probably most captivated with the most was that of Alexandru Bablitchi. From the first note he played it was very evident that he was very well classically trained. That being said once given the opportunity to solo he grabbed it with both hands and did not disappoint. It was his performance that made me really start to look about at the rest of the band and start to appreciate the performers that Leonard has chosen to surround himself with.
On vocals, wow on vocals, was Sharon Robinson. Sharon has collaborated with Leonard over a long period on time. Most famous for co-writing “Everybody knows” and “Waiting for a miracle”. Sharron also has had a number of her songs sung and recorded by a number of other artists and has won a Grammy Award for her song “New Attitude”. Leonard’s warmth and affection for her was very evident and when he acknowledges Sharron, and clearly he never wanted her to hide in his shadows, he really wants her to be a main performer in her own write.
And then there was the “Fabulous and sublime” Webb Sisters on vocals, clarinet, guitar, harp and occasional cartwheel where perfect. Their backing vocals really supported Leonard’s songs and their “do dum dum dum, a do dum dum” were still running through my head the next day. (Tower of Song) These truly are great singers and performers and I am sure they are well on their way to making a very big name for themselves. Already having performed with the Avett Brothers and Glen Hansard they are playing in circles that I am sure will bring me to see them perform again sometime soon.
And last but not least on the bill was Leonard Cohen himself, a gifted man who came across as an exceedingly humble, professional musician and one who fills me with joy just thinking about the fact that I have got to see play live.
It’s hard to pinpoint one particular part that I enjoyed the most, was it his dulcet tones, which croon you to the ground. Or is it his effervescent lust for life, whether it is in the form of him running, swaying, skipping or just dropping to his knees. It is all amazing, and something that can’t help but make you smile. Then there is his sheer music genius, it comes in the form of beautiful writing compositions, coupled with the ability to reduce me to tears with the lyrics he writes.
Leonard’s set resembled a “Best of” Leonard Cohen with a smattering of songs of the new album “Old Ideas”, it is a perfect mix of songs for any fan.
What does interest me is the number of songs that are changed between shows. For instance the variation between the two shows in Amsterdam were only four songs and mostly that was because the first night they had to cut the show short because of the noise curfew and the second night they pushed the time barrier a bit further. The difference between the show I watched in Amsterdam and Madrid was 7 songs. The two that I enjoyed the most was “Going Home” which is currently my favorite LC song and I really wanted to see it live. His version raised the hairs on the back of my neck and I just loved it. That live version has to be right up there for anticipated songs to see live and to be surreally happy with it. The other major song that I enjoyed was “Closing time”, this was at the end of the second encore and all the crowd were on their feet and enjoying the concert immensely.
Overall the performance was amazing. Here is a man (and band) who every night give two sets of 1 ½ hours each, and who performs approximately 33 songs a night.
That is amazing in itself, but also this guy jogs on stage (skipping off) and drops to his knees no less than 12 times a show. As I watched him do this I thought I could not do that, I mean I am at least half his age but there is no way my knees would sustain that……
My favorite tracks (other than “Going Home & Closing time”) were “Dance me to the end of love” (Which he opened the set with), “EverybodyKnows”, Amen (of the new album) “Darkness”, “I’m your Man”, “Hallelujah”, “First we take Manhattan”.
And when I think back to the shows it is “Darkness” that I will also never forget. It’s probably because it has the fantastic lyrics, the souls and beauty in Leonard’s voice is swoonable. And on top of that you have the backing of the Webb Sisters & Sharon and the beautiful bass line and Organ towards the end………..”I said is this contagious, you said, just drink it up” And that I did.
And when I think back to that night in Madrid I constantly have a lyric being sung to me from this beautiful crooner, “Tell me again when I am clean and I am sober, tell me again when I ‘ve seen through the horror, tell me again, tell me over and over, tell me that you love me then, AMEN” – AMEN to that Leonard.