Leonard Cohen Concert Perth November 2013
Cohen’s back in the Land Down Under and the Land of the Long White Cloud and if anything, the concert is more sublime than ever. The opening gig in Perth was a gentle affair, somehow more musically precise than before, there was a clarity of instruments and voice, giving the feel of a classical music master-class.
The violin of Alex Bublitchi has been accorded more prominence, reminiscent of the soaringRaffi Hakopian violin days of Cohen’s tours in the late 1970s and the music is all the better for it. At the same time Neil Larsen’s Hammond B3 is more restrained, while Rafael Gayol’s percussion remains peerless, so damn sympathetic it’s almost a shock when a heavier rock and roll beat thunders in with the likes of “First We Take Manhattan.” Mitch Watkins on guitar at times laid down a distinctly Wes Montgomery sound, indeed jazz and blues influences are apparent throughout the concert. Then there’s Javier Mas on guitar, laud and archilaud and bandurai. This man is a tour de force, every time I hear him, I am reminded of the passion and intensity of Manitas de Plata – something about the Spanish master’s playing stirs very deep in the soul. It would be easy to neglect Roscoe Beck on bass, such is the finesse of his unobtrusive but essential laying down of bass patterns, only occasionally, usually in the theatre of his double bass, does Roscoe take any sort of centre stage, yet he is Cohen’s long term musical director, the man who put this outstanding group of musos musos together, including the Webb Sisters on harp and guitar. Mention must be made of the boss. Cohen is playing his Canadian-made guitar with more attack than usual, his distinctive strum and pick is now accentuated with very strong individual string attacks, that resonate as musical exclamation marks to his lyrics.
Then there’s Cohen’s voice, an intoxicating, beyond the grave rumble – if a didgeridoo could talk, surely it would sound like Leonard Cohen. Can he sing? Try singing “Bird on the Wire” or “Hallelujah.” The voice is at once compelling, enveloping, lived in, as smooth as a 20 year old single malt and holding up remarkably well, although, perhaps naturally, towards the end of the three hour concert, his voice was becoming husky and the angels stepped in, carrying him to soaring heights. Yet just when you thought he’d stretched his vocal chords to the limit, after the poignant end-of-life’s journey “Going Home,” he broke into a scintillating “First We Take Manhattan” and you were left shaking your head, thinking, “Where the hell did he pull that from? Under that shiny black Fedora?”
Speaking of voices, Sharon Robinson, muse, collaborator, co-writer, perhaps even guardian, is stunning, “Alexandra Leaving” their take on Anthony and Cleopatra, is a tour de force that takes your breath away. Cohen has never disguised the fact that female voices add spice and beauty to his sepulchral tones and he has no fear of standing back, hat off, head bowed in respect, quietly taking in velvet – voiced woman interpreting his lyrics and music. Inevitably these chanteuse are sublime gifts to the world of music – think Jennifer Warne, Perla Batalla and Robinson, a one time backing singer for Ann – Margaret. There is a moment when the Webb Sisters take ownership of “If It Be Your Will”, I first heard them perform this in 2009 and it still makes my heart stop.
Songs? Where does one start with Cohen? Like so many in the audience, I grew up with his work, walking the streets of Auckland as a 16 year old boy, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” under my arm, but one song always breaks me with its intensity, truth and unnerving ability to set scenes in my mind. Javier Mas inevitably rips your heart out as he lays down a show-stopping lead-in performance. I defy anyone with a soul to stop the tears when the story unfolds … “An old woman gave us shelter, kept us hidden in the garret, then the soldiers came … she died without a whisper …. through the graves the wind is blowing.”
Some will tell you Cohen’s music is monotonous, even suicidal, that he cannot sing. They are at once, both right and wrong. One thing is for sure, there will never be another quite like the Montreal Monk and surely and decently, the time to smell and write of the roses must be closing in our man. Do not miss this show, Lenny may not pass this way again.