Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Leonard Cohen in Madrid

  Having bought my ticket in March, before I was certain I would even have a reason to go to Spain, last Friday was a long time coming. Regretting not seeing Cohen on his tour three years ago, I splurged for a ninth row center ticket, to make the most of the rare chance of seeing him perform live. And knowing that Spain loves Leonard more than the United States does (Spain recently awarded him the prestigious Prince of Asturias award for poetry, where Cohen delivered an unforgettable acceptance speech), I knew I would be in for a treat. 
The band took the stage to a standing ovation, followed by the lithe Leonard Cohen, a mere 78 years old, who promptly dropped to his knees next to Javier Mas, his Spanish guitar player, urging him to embellish the opening tune, “Dance Me To The End Of Love.” These days, Cohen’s rumbling bass voice adds both a dark and romantic layer to his songs. This, along with his incredibly tight nine-piece band, creates a breathing work of art.
The second song performed, “The Future,” is perhaps Cohen’s grimmest. But even when painting a post-apocalyptic picture, Cohen lightened the mood when he sang the lyric “white girls dancing” as his two female white backup singers did synchronized cartwheels. Next came the classic “Bird On The Wire,” transformed by a beautiful bluesy-soul guitar introduction. Leonard also changed the second half of the line “And if I have been untrue, I hope you know it was never to you” to “It’s that I thought a lover had to be some kind of liar too.” 
After “Everybody Knows” and a personal favorite of mine, “Who by Fire,” the band performed “Darkness,” with the Hammond B3 organ and the blues harp (performed by Cohen's tour manager Mike Scoble) taking the lead along with that snarling abyss of a voice. The next song performed from the new album was “Amen,” which was accompanied by both jazz guitar chord and violin solos. Later, Cohen sang “My Secret Life” with co-writer and third female vocalist Sharon Robinson. Before the intermission, Cohen performed a peaceful, hymnal rendition of “Anthem.” A break followed, but not before Cohen introduced everyone from the band members to the lighting technicians, and then went skipping off of the stage.

The second set kicked off with “Tower Of Song,” where Cohen played a keyboard that sounded like steel drums, and pounded out a solo, after which he wiped his hand across his head and mumbled, “That was hard.” Then came the famous “Suzanne,” followed by “Night Comes On,” after which a surprise setlist change was made by Cohen. He informed the band, and they played “The Guests,” the first live performance of that song sine 1985. “Heart With No Companion” followed, with a down-home, singalong arrangement. On “Democracy,” Leonard took up the Jew's harp, and then the two cartwheeling backup vocalists, the Webb sisters, performed “Coming Back To You,” and afterward Sharon Robinson sang “Alexandra Leaving,” another song co-written by her and Cohen. Later, the perfectly sculpted lyric “Hallelujah” was sung, followed by “Take This Waltz.” This song had a special significance that night, because it was originally a poem written by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, one of the finest poets to ever live. Cohen's lyric is very similar to the original, with a few Cohenesque changes inserted along the way. Looking at Cohen’s body of lyrics, one can see that Lorca has had a substantial influence on his work. 
After briefly leaving the stage, Cohen came back for the first encore, where he performed “So Long Marianne” and “First We Take Manhattan.” After the first song, Cohen looked at his watch— 12:35 a.m. Not done yet. Leaving and returning again, the band played “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Closing Time,” a good closing song (of course). But he wasn’t done yet. After leaving and returning a third time, Cohen performed “I Tried To Leave You” and “Save The Last Dance For Me,” a Drifter’s cover. He also had incredibly kind words for the audience, saying he didn’t know when we would meet again but that he had given his all, and then he said, “May you be surrounded by friends and family all of your life— and if this is not your lot, may blessings find you in your solitude.” He bowed gracefully and left for the final time. 
The concert lasted almost four hours, beginning at 9:15 p.m. and ending after 1:00 a.m., just in time for the madrileño crowd to eat dinner. It was an amazing show, stuffed with thirty-three beautifully arranged songs (full set-list here) accompanied by exquisite performances. It was truly a concert the likes of which I may never see again, the kind of concert that makes one want to dedicate one's life to creating art as wonderful as what was just witnessed.  

No comments:

Post a Comment