Leonard Cohen, Bard Of Bedsits Boffo In Boston – 2009

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Cohen Wonderful At The Wang:
Photos & Review

Images
Once again, a striking shot of the marquee at a venue for a Cohen concert  anchors the Heck Of A Guy post about that performance.

cohen-kneel-wang9I’m unsure why there are only one or two other photos (at least, that I’ve found) taken from this perspective (otherwise known as the balcony) of Cohen kneeling, but I am grateful for these few instances of that classic image.

The final two photos capture the physicality of Dino Soldo’s style of playing the woodwinds.cohen-wind-wangcohen-wind2-wang9

The Words
While a number of reports of the Boston show competently describe the performance and some nicely evoke the experience of watching the concert, I am especially taken with the review at Neo-neocon: Leonard Cohen comes to Boston, which offers a perspective not only of Cohen’s work place within the context of the lives of those in the cohort Neo-neocon and I share but also of the significance of his music on our consciousness. Excerpts follow:

As I’ve written before, Leonard Cohen is not for everyone (although he’s certainly for me). Some find him boring, some find him droning, some find him hard to tell apart from Dustin Hoffman until he opens his mouth (although as they’ve both aged, they look a lot less alike than they used to). But I find him to be one of the most compelling and hypnotic singer-songwriters, poet-musicians—whatever sort of hyphenated descriptive term you prefer—in the world.

Cohen spent a lot of time last night with his hat on and his eyes closed and his legs bent or even in a full kneel (try doing that when you’re seventy-four), facing his backup singers or his musicians and singing to them. It sounds as though this would distance him from the audience, but it didn’t; it’s his way of reaching deep within himself to give the greatest emotional power to each song. The words are neither more nor less important than the music, and although he’s probably sung each composition hundreds or even thousands of times, he never seems to be just going through the motions.

For example, when Cohen sang “Suzanne,” one of his earliest songs, he brought thick layers of memory to those of us who had first heard it back in high school or college in the 60s, from a Leonard Cohen who seemed mature at the time but was only in his mid-thirties. How did he make it seem so fresh now, singing it as an old man? His voice is far deeper (deeper even than I’d heard it sound recently in You Tube videos from the current tour—how deep can a man’s voice get and still be heard by the human ear?) But that’s not the only thing that’s deeper; you can hear all the ache of the intervening years—the hard-won wisdom and the hard-fought pain—in his phrasing and tone, and as you listen you nod and think of all that you’ve been through in those same passing decades.

… it is a tribute to the extraordinary musicality of Cohen and everyone else on the stage that none of the new variations is ever a disappointment no matter how deeply entrenched in one’s head a beloved original might be. Each new phrasing, each new riff, is a revelation.

I have just used the word “revelation,” and it points to another characteristic of Cohen’s work: there is a religious undercurrent to it, even when he’s singing about sex (or maybe especially when he’s singing about sex). How he manages to combine the worldly and even the world-weary with the ecstatic and the numinous is a mystery, but his music is permeated with this sense.

The full review cam be read at Neo-neocon: Leonard Cohen comes to Boston.

Credit Due Department:

The great shot of the marquee at the Wang Theatre was taken by Avi Elkoni, The other  three photos were taken by xrayspx, who has generously licensed these pictures for uses such as this.

Note: Originally posted Jun 1, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Perspective & The 2009 Leonard Cohen Oakland Concert

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Putting Cohen In Context

A review of the April 13, 2009 Oakland concert, Leonard Cohen’s Perfect Offering by Gary Kamiya, is online at Salon.com It’s an interesting perspective, placing this show in the context of past tours and focusing not only on the performance but also on the notion of Cohen dealing with old age without self-delusion, false bravado, or fearfulness.

I’ve excerpted passages in hopes of convincing viewers that the entire piece is worth perusal.

For the people fortunate enough to see Leonard Cohen on his current national tour, as I did Monday night at Oakland, Calif.’s Paramount Theater, the world is a bigger, deeper, older, more bitter and radiant place. Every Cohen performance is an epic event. And in his three-hour-plus performance, part of his first tour in 15 years, the great songwriter, poet and novelist once again used his powerful body of work to create, for one night, a theater of his life, a public confession so intimate, complex, combative and profound that it felt as much like prayer as performance. At the end of the evening, as the audience floated out, still transported to whatever unknown inner place his words and music had carried them, you could almost feel a palpable sense of collective gratitude that such artistry still exists in a weary world — that Leonard Cohen is still around.

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For those of us still hiding from the revenges planned by the whirligig of time, it can be hard to look. This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen Cohen perform. The first time was sometime in the 1970s — it’s been so long I don’t remember exactly. The last was on his mid-’90s tour, during the remarkable career renaissance spurred by his superb 1988 album, “I’m Your Man.” In a stock line he uses in every show, but which surely brings down the house every time, Cohen noted that the last time he performed was 14 or 15 years ago, then deadpanned, “I was 60 years old. Just a crazy kid with a dream.” In those 14 years, Cohen went from being a brilliantly sardonic middle-aged man (“Now my friends are gone and my hair is gray/ I ache in the places where I used to play”) to a brilliantly sardonic old man. In his black suit and fedora, he looks like a cross between an aging hipster and a retired Jewish haberdasher, with a little John Updike thrown in. It’s a cool look, and Cohen is trim and spry (in a delightful touch, he skipped off the stage at end of each set), but there’s no hiding the fact that the golden boy is gone and won’t come back.

But, of course, Cohen knows this, and talks about it, and plays with it, and interrogates it. At one point in his second set, he said that he’d been working out, and slyly opened his suit jacket to reveal his (flat) stomach. “But it’s too late,” he said. And then, after a beat: “It’s always been too late.” Old age, like everything else for Cohen, is a curiosity to be investigated. It’s inescapable, and yet in a certain sense it can be overcome. During his memorable version of “I’m Your Man,” which like all of his unabashed love songs falls like a redemptive rain after the caustic romantic pessimism of much of his other work, he made one of his characteristic, intriguing tweaks to his lyrics: following the line, “If you want another kind of lover,” he changed the original “I’ll wear a mask for you” to “I’ll wear an old man’s mask for you.” Cohen’s point seemed to be that his old age is real, but it is also a mask, and that beneath it, the same youthful fire of passion and devotion burns. In fact, maybe it burns higher and hotter, as he gets closer to what he calls “closing time.” It certainly felt like that Monday night.

The Force Of The Venue

The above photos by Aki Gibbons, shot from amidst the audience rather than from onstage or the apron of the stage, effectively evoke the sense of the place and the impact those surroundings have on the performance and those attending the performance.

Compare the setting of the Paramount Theater in Oakland (shown above) where Cohen and crew put on a three hour show (which outlasted many in the audience with babysitters or early meetings the next morning) with that of  the  Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival (shown below) where Leonard Cohen has been allotted a 60 minute slot tonight,1 during which time other bands will also be playing on other stages.

Coachella_2007_Main_StageIt’s not necessarily a matter of one venue being better or worse for Cohen’s music; it does, however, seem intuitively clear that the venues do differ significantly and that such a variation cannot but have an impact on the singer and the audience.

Readers still unconvinced of the significant distinctions between the theater and festival environments may find one final difference persuasive: Coachella is the only Cohen Tour venue for which I’ve found advice on How to Find Love (at Coachella): The eHow article opens with these lines:

Let’s face it, out of all the music festivals out there, Coachella has, BY FAR, the sexiest crowd. After all, this is California, where image is everything. Girls and boys alike dress to impress. And while the crowd isn’t quite as “open” as they are at other famous festivals (Woodstock ’69, for example)… there is still a bit of that free spirited, “anything can happen” vibe floating in the air around the polo fields.

Like the man says,

There ain’t no cure,
There ain’t no cure,
There ain’t no cure for love

Note: Originally posted Apr 17, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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  1. According to Countdown to Coachella, Leonard Cohen will appear on the Outdoor Stage from 7:30PM to 8:30 PM []

The Cat In The Hat Is Back – Leonard Cohen Prepares For 2008 Tour

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I’m Your (Sharp-dressed) Man

They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

– From Sharp-dressed Man by ZZ Top

This shot of Leonard Cohen rehearsing for his upcoming World Tour in his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes1 is intriguing and even a tad mysterious.

How, for example, does he look so good in that hat? Why does he look like an illustration for the dictionary definition of “dapper” wearing a double breasted jacket while 97% of the men that don them (including Dave Letterman, who wears one almost every night on his show) resemble nothing else as much as a corpse being fitted for a shroud? Why is he fingering a keyboard when he typically plays a guitar, if he plays any instrument, in his concerts? Why does he have only one hand on the keyboard? Is the one hand in the pocket stance essential as a component of the not quite insouciant slouch?

And what the heck is with that gong in the background?

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Credit Due Department: Photo by Lorca Cohen. Used by permission of Leonard Cohen via Ed Sanders. Thanks to Dick Straub for alerting me to the photo.

Note: Originally posted Apr 27, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. Or would these be Leonard Cohen’s “Sabbath-go-to-meeting Clothes?” Or his “Sabbath-go-to-synagogue Clothes?” Such are the perils of the culturally sensitive blogger. []

Quality Photos: 2009 Leonard Cohen Leconfield Concert

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Leonard Cohen at Leconfield

I was so taken by these photos of the January 26, 2009 Leonard Cohen concert in Adelaide, Australia I accidentally found that I contacted Paul,, the blogger-photographer who has allowed me to post them.

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Note: Originally posted Feb 12, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric