But love is not a victory march,
it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah!
Leonard Cohen’s Battle For Berlin
… the Webbs and Sharon Robinson came on unsmiling, stony-faced, morose, and despite the obligatory standing ovation LC looked ill at ease to say the least. One problem must have been the audience. What a lack of vibe. Mostly over 50 (as I am, but not like them!) and looking as if they just came for an evening out, provincial in the most pejorative sense of the word, they could have been watching anyone really. They marched up and down the aisles with wines and beers as he sang, talked amongst themselves, clapped and whooped each time they (wrongly) thought a song had ended… really embarrassing. … They were only waiting for Suzanne, and the rest seemed to pass them by as they hysterically took mobile phone footage of each other and the screens…
While others who attended disagree about the appearance of the performers and the extent of the philistinism rampant in the crowd, the consensus is nonetheless that the Berlin show was challenging in a way that many other stops on the World Tour have not been.
Many previous Tour concerts (including the one I attended at the Beacon Theatre) have been as much worship services of gathered Cohen acolytes as they are entertainments. The greatest risks posed in such circumstances has been competitions by audience members to demonstrate who is most appreciative of, knowledgeable about, and emotionally intimate with Cohen and crew.
From both the reports of those in attendance and the press, there is little doubt that, by the end of the Berlin show, Cohen had won over the audience. What is striking is that this was a victory accomplished by the overwhelming display of professionalism and grace by Leonard Cohen, the backup singers, and the band.
Keep in mind that this is the grown-up version of the Leonard Cohen who walked off the stage in frustration in a 1972 concert. Of course, this is also the Leonard Cohen who thoughtfully considers his responsibilities as a performer:
You definitely go into a concert with a prayer on your lips. There’s no question about that. I think that anything risky that you do, anything that sets you up for the possibility of humiliation like a concert does … you have to lean on something that is a little better than yourself I feel I’m always struggling with the material, whether it’s a concert or a poem or a prayer or a conversation. It’s very rarely that I find I’m in a condition of grace where there’s a kind of flow that is natural. I don’t inhabit that landscape too often. … Well, I mean this in a kind of lighthearted way. When you walk on the stage and 5,000 people have paid good money to hear you, there’s definitely a sense that you can blow it. The possibilities for disgrace are enormous.1
Leonard Cohen’s 2009 Strategy For Taking Berlin
- From An Interview with Leonard Cohen” by Robert Sward. A Side. Montreal, Quebec. 1986 [↩]