Three years ago, I was lucky enough to see Leonard Cohen live in concert in Christchurch so when I bought tickets for this bonus return visit, I was expecting it to be something of a carbon copy of that concert. And I was OK with that: the 2010 show was amazing and an experience I was more than ready to repeat.
However, the biggest bonus about last night’s show was that while it was just as brilliant as the earlier concert, it also had a few extra little treats.
As expected, the great man himself was every bit as energetic as in 2010, skipping on stage and dropping to his knees as he opened the show. And that opening itself was something of a surprise: no support act, no mucking around, just Leonard Cohen and his incredible band suddenly appearing on stage and getting straight into it. And as with 2010’s concert, he was on his knees singing, and back up with one fluid motion time and time again and seemed to have boundless energy. I suspect no one’s told him he’s 79 years old.
The show started a few minutes after 8pm and — with just a short 10-minute or so break in the middle — finished around 11.30pm: certainly good bang for your buck for the fans.
The first half finished up with my favourite Cohen song, Anthem. I suppose it’s safe to say that what makes the man such a great songwriter is that his words carry so much meaning.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in …
Let’s compare that, shall we, to the efforts of another Canadian “singer-songwriter”, one Justin Bieber: Baby, baby, baby oooh; Like baby, baby, baby nooo; Like baby, baby, baby oooh; I thought you’d always be mine (mine).
But I digress, back to the greatness.
The “extra little treats” I referred to above included adding a violinist to his already spectacular band, reminding us that he’s a pretty decent guitarist himself, having the Webb sisters take the spotlight for a solo,and the inclusion of a few songs from his last album and the odd one or two we didn’t get at the last concert. However, many of the classics still made an appearance: So Long, Marianne; Bird on a Wire; Hallelujah; Tower of Song; I’m Your Man and a rendition of A Thousand Kisses Deep that sent shivers up my spine. You could have heard a pin drop as every one of us seated in that arena was transfixed by his recitation.
In fact, the audience was spellbound by every song, fully engrossed in the words the master was sharing with us. And as with all great poetry — because that’s what his songs really are — I’m sure each and every one of us found our own message in the words, taking on board meanings that tied in to what is happening in our own lives at this very moment. A quite serious medical diagnosis last year highlighted my own mortality but also, in turn, prompted me to make positive change. One again it’s Anthem, reminding me that our flaws and frailties are there for a reason, that takes centre stage for me.
Did I hear every one of the Cohen songs I wanted to hear? Probably not, but for that to happen the concert would have lasted at least another 10 hours at least.
However, what I did hear was a perfect mix of old and newer songs, performed by a singer who simply continues to improve as the years go by: his voice seems to have become even deeper, if that’s possible, and the gravelly, aged tone that very occasionally broke through gave his words even more emotion.
The humility of the man is astounding: he received a standing ovation as he came on stage, and another three at the end of the show that prompted encores, but still he thanked the audience for coming out, for sticking around for the second half of the show and for just being fans.
And there was another one of those aforementioned extra little treat for fans during that final encore: we all thought, as he launched into Closing Time, that we were hearing the final song of the show. However, he snuck in one last number that kept everyone on their feet and surprised us all: Save the Last Dance for Me.
It was interesting that an old colleague (old as in a colleague from a few years ago, not as in someone particularly old) commented on Facebook as she awaited the start of the concert that the arena was rapidly filling up with aging hipsters and their adult offspring. While I’ll lay claim to the aging part of the equation, I’m not now nor have I ever been a hipster. Truth be told, I’m probably far from Leonard Cohen’s target audience: my “wild youth” was during the early to mid-1980s, when I was rocking my pink spiked hair, black lipstick and assorted chains while listening to the Clash and the Dead Kennedys. However, as I flew home today and sat on the plane with my iPod on shuffle, I figured I’m probably not the target audience for the likes of Tupac, Justin Timberlake or Babyshambles, either. And as that thought crossed my mind, my iPod shuffled on to Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3, and it occurred to me that perhaps target audiences don’t really matter.
I wonder how many people back in the day realised that the spikey haired chick in the black lipstick was just as likely to be listening to Verdi’s Requiem as the Public Image on her Walkman.