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.
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.
It’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