Archive for the ‘Leonard Cohen’ Category

Leonard Cohen-fest on TV this Friday

June 17, 2009

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

“Part of the new Leonard Cohen DVD, Live in London, shot at his 2008 O2 show, is repeated on Friday 19 June on BBC4, followed by two documentaries – Songs From My Life and What Leonard Cohen Did For Me.”

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All three programmes are highly recommended. And don’t forget: you can probably watch them online – some BBC programmes are accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission (though copyright restricts the territories in which they’re available):

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

Dylan, Morrison, Cohen, Young: wrinkly rockers keep on keepin’ on

April 20, 2009
Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, the key rockers for grown-ups, are very active in their wrinkly years:

* Dylan’s touring Europe (London this weekend); new album next Monday;

* Morrison is rolling out his Astral Weeks Live gig – London shows at the weekend, like earlier US shows, were praised to the skies; new album of the LA gig recently released, DVD coming soon;

* Cohen’s recent world tour was wildly successful, CD/DVD recordings of the London show capture the brilliance;

* Young’s 2008 shows were the best in years; new album just released.

Deeply impressive; in spirit, if not in body, all four top rockers for grown-ups look as though they’ll stay forever young…

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen Live in London – CD and DVD

February 27, 2009
Raving about last July’s Leonard Cohen London show (Music For Grown-Ups review reprinted below) to whoever would listen, I suggested that the multi-camera big-screen live video mix was so good that the gig was destined to end up on DVD.

Well, I never!

Leonard Cohen Live In London on DVD and 2CD is now being advertised for (UK) release on 30 March.

Both could be strong contenders for Rock Album of the Decade.

Which to buy, though? Simple: both. DVD for the house, CD for the car.

Rave on, Lenny!

Gerry Smith

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Leonard Cohen in London: Hallelujah!

Death-bed scene: “Well, Dad, that’s the money sorted out: you seem to have blown most of it on live music. As a matter of interest, what were your top five gigs?”

I think I’d have to include last night’s London leg of the Leonard Cohen tour at the O2 (aka Millennium Dome).

The septuagenarian charmer delivered almost three hours of intense beauty, deep joy and not a little glee.

For the assembled 20,000, it was a predictably reverential (if unexpectedly intimate), celebration of a major, rarely seen, talent.

The setlist (below) was remarkable, Zeitgeist-marking signature songs succeeding each other, relentlessly. Cohen’s performance was energetic, engaged, generous. His singing made you suspect that maybe he really does have the gift of a golden voice after all. His spoken renditions, particularly of A Thousand Kisses Deep, were deeply moving.

Hallelujah! What a writer! What a performer! What a charismatic, inspirational man.

Band – 6 plus 3 vocalists – were accomplished accomplices. Horn-man Dino Soldo was particularly impressive. Sound quality was the best I’ve heard at an amplified gig. Staging, lighting, vision/mixing on big screens were all benchmark quality.

I’d waited many years to see Leonard, the second best writer/performer of the rock era. It was well worth the wait.

SETLIST (approximate):

1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. The Future
3. Ain’t No Cure for Love
4. Bird on a Wire
5. Everybody Knows
6. In My Secret Life
7. Who by Fire
8. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
9. Anthem
10. Tower of Song
11. Suzanne
12. The Gypsy’s Wife
13. Boogie Street
14. Hallelujah
15. Democracy
16. I’m Your Man
17. Take This Waltz
18. First We Take Manhattan
19. Sisters of Mercy
20. If It Be Your Will
21. A Thousand Kisses Deep
22. So Long, Marianne
23. Closing Time
24. I Tried to Leave You
25. Whither Thou Goest

A perfect 10, then?

Not quite. A churl could point to the slight unevenness of the setlist: it flagged a bit towards the end of the second half. The finales were underwhelming – the welcome Webb Sisters duet was wrongly positioned; Closing Time is dramatically and melodically too weak to close a show.

And there was an ever-present threat that the show might tip over into mainstream showbiz hoopla – Leonard’s frequent name-checking of the band palled early; he was far too nice to the assembled hordes; and you suspected that the “spontaneous” jokes had been the same at most gigs on the tour.

For most performers, all this would have been a turn-off. For Leonard, we can make an exception.

Gerry Smith

Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Jeff Beck: one week in Australia

February 5, 2009
Thanks to Andrew Robertson in Adelaide:

I have just enjoyed the most incredible week of music so I’ll see if I can manage to share it with you…

Last weekend was the Australia Day long weekend and on Saturday night we saw Neil Young at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Ordinarily we would have stayed the whole long weekend in Sydney, as it is such a great city, but before I had booked flights and accommodation, it was announced that Leonard Cohen would be playing in Adelaide on the holiday Monday – so naturally I booked that. That meant coming home from Sydney on the Sunday, which turned out to be fortuitous because it was then announced that Jeff Beck would be playing in Adelaide on the Sunday night. Don’t things have a way of working out in the end?

And then it was announced that Neil Young would be playing the Big Day Out circuit, including Adelaide, so I saw him again on Friday night – so that was 4 amazing concerts in one amazing week. Probably only surpassed by Van Morrison’s Astral Weekend at Hollywood Bowl. Although the week I saw Dylan in Adelaide then Van twice in 2 nights in England, all in the same week back in 2007, was pretty good too!

So let’s begin with Neil Young in Sydney. He was supported by My Morning Jacket who I thought were great. I don’t know much about them, but understand they play a variety of styles – that night they played mostly softer, more acoustic, country influenced music. If anyone can recommend which of their albums I should start with, I’d be interested to hear.

Shakey played a really great concert, with a set list that was about as good as you could hope for. Of course, it would be easy to come up with another whole set list of favourites he didn’t play, but when you walk out happy with everything he did play, it’s a good concert.

It was mostly electric, a short acoustic set in the middle, but mostly electric. However, without Crazy Horse he didn’t really extend out the songs with long, loud, grungy solos. I wondered if that was just Neil, like where he’s at right now, or whether it was a conscious decision to try to balance the “two Neils” for a mixed audience. For the grunge lovers, it was certainly loud and guitary enough. But for the folkies it wasn’t too grungy. I’m happy with both Neils, and was very happy with the way he played it on the night. A case in point was Cinnamon Girl, which probably only went for 3-4 minutes, like a single rather than an album track or an extended live version.

The only other time I’ve seen Neil Young was the Greendale tour with Crazy Horse, and their second set – after Greendale – went for 90 minutes with just 6 songs. A real blast. Raw power. Great songs.

Anyway, back to Sydney where he started with Love And Only Love, so it was a powerhouse opening. A real highlight was Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which came very early in the concert and it was obvious he was on top of his game. He looked great, no sign of any health issues. And in great voice – his voice doesn’t seem to have changed over the years, unlike others (most notably Dylan).

No doubt in my mind that the highlight of the night was Cortez the Killer. Slow, powerful and menacing, the song just took hold of you – and took hold of him, as he doubled up to rip those notes out of his guitar. Doesn’t he have a great guitar style that is quite unique to him, and it’s songs like Cortez that really showcase that (Powderfinger too, but unfortunately we didn’t get that). Spirit Road was a very spirited performance, and reminded me how much I liked Chrome Dreams II (Ordinary People would be great live wouldn’t it?).

He then went to the organ (a proper one with pipes) and did a heartfelt solo version of Mother Earth, which led into the acoustic set. Highlighted by The Needle and The Damage Done, which still resonates today and which he still seems to feel deeply, but then there were some unexpected songs – Unknown Legend and One of These Days, both songs I really like from Harvest Moon, but not songs I was expecting. Similarly Words, from Harvest, which was great and led back into the electric finale.

I know I’ve forgotten a few, but he closed with Rocking in the Free World then came back to encore with The Beatles’ A Day in the Life which if you didn’t know otherwise you would have thought was his song. I’m sure Lennon would have approved. For a bit of theatre at the end he destroyed every string on his guitar in that cacophonous crescendo, before hitting two notes on a xylophone (or something like a xylophone). A nice ironic touch.

Jumping forward to Friday night, Neil played the Big Day Out in Adelaide. These are outdoor, all-day concerts for kids, with mosh pits, crowd surfing and the like. And bands I’ve never heard of and music that doesn’t really reach me (with exceptions, obviously – except that I don’t know what they are). I should stress, that’s my opinion only – but most new young music I hear doesn’t attract me to find out or listen more. Anyway, for the Big Day Out I was intending to go and listen and see if I could find some other music I liked. But then this monstrous heatwave descended on Adelaide so I decided not to – it was over 40C (that’s well over 100F). I skipped the whole day and arrived a bit after 8pm for Shakey’s set at 8.30 by which time the sun had gone down and a bit of a breeze was blowing. I got a great spot, a bit side on to be out of the mass of people, but still close to the stage.

Neil came on wearing a loose shirt and cargo shorts (!), no jacket, no hat. Again he looked great and I think they must have had enough cooling on the stage because he didn’t seem at all bothered by the heat. If anything, on the night he seemed more relaxed and into to it than Sydney (not that there was anything wrong with Sydney!). He started with Love and Only Love again, then ripped into Hey Hey My My. I wondered if the younger audience knew the significance of the song, in respect to Kurt Cobain’s suicide note – but judging from the incredible response to the whole set, I decided they all knew Neil’s work pretty well. The audience was still predominantly young, although quite a number of other “old farts” like me had turned up (probably mostly only for Neil too).

I half expected him to delete the acoustic set in this concert, thinking that “grungy Neil” might have been more appropriate for the audience, but I was wrong. And the acoustic set got huge audience response, especially Heart of Gold. As well as HoG, he also did Old Man, so that was two new acoustic songs we hadn’t heard in Sydney.

Another killer Cortez, but this night a new highlight would emerge: Like A Hurricane. Most of my friends think I’m crazy, but it is definitely worth going to more than one concert in the same tour (as everyone on these lists knows)! He unleashed his full throttle on Like A Hurricane, long, loud, spectacular.

And what an ending, reaching a massive guitar driven and drum crashing crescendo while Neil somehow wailed the chorus line above it all. A moment to remember! So with Hurricane and Hey Hey My My, there were two different electric songs to Sydney, as well as the two different acoustic ones. Another great Day In the Life to close, another 6 guitar strings destroyed.

Then Jeff Beck on Sunday night was a revelation. The reviewer in our local paper described it as guitar poetry or guitar sculpture, not mere guitar playing. And that wasn’t a bad description. I always liked Rolling Stone’s description of Clapton’s and Duane Allman’s playing on the Layla album: never have guitar heroics sounded so sweet. And Jeff Beck’s concert was in that category. Especially if you add “subtle” to “sweet”.

One thing that struck me. He used the same guitar, unchanged, all night – what’s with these other guys who change guitars after every song (is it just to keep the roadies busy?).

As probably everyone knows, the other interesting thing about him is the way he uses his fingers rather than a plectrum. And on one song he used the slide thingy on his “picking” hand rather than up the fretboard. Apologies if I’ve got the technical terminology wrong! Anyway, it sounded great – but more importantly, it sounded like music, it was right for the song, not a gimmick.

I’m not familiar enough with his body of work to list the songs – the only album I have of his is Blow by Blow, although I might now go and get some more. I was told that the set list was similar to the Ronnie Scott’s CD/DVD that has just been released which I will definitely be getting.

But one song I did recognize was The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, which I just couldn’t believe I was hearing – the very next night after Neil Young had encored with it. In Jeff Beck’s case, he closed his set with it before coming back for two encores.

This was a seriously great concert, one I was so pleased I didn’t miss. And for us Aussies it was great to see Tal Wilkenfeld, the young (22yo) female Aussie bass player, who was outstanding. Jeff Beck was quoted as saying she’s like Jaco Pastorius in Kylie Minogue’s body – great quote!

The best concert of the week, though, was Leonard Cohen. As every review I’ve read has said about this tour, from all over the world (including on MFGU) this was a privilege not a concert.

It was another weather-affected day in Adelaide, the concert being an outdoor affair, A Day on the Green at a Southern Vales winery, an hour south of Adelaide. Incidentally the promoters of A Day on the Green describe them as a Big Day Out for Grown-ups!

The first act, Augie March, started around 5pm in the real heat of the day. We just couldn’t sit out there, so had to just listen to them in the background from the shade of the cellar door. We did go out for Paul Kelly – he is unmissable – and he did a great set even though it must have been most uncomfortable. He just had Dan Kelly supporting him on lead guitar and backing vocals, no other support but it worked really well. I think Dan is his nephew.

Leonard Cohen’s first set started around 7.20 still in full sun and let me tell you, it was blazing. The sun was just going down an hour later as the first set finished, so after a short break it was quite pleasant for the second set. I wondered why they didn’t just push the whole thing back, but anyway it didn’t affect the quality of the music.

How to describe Leonard Cohen? I am not sure I have ever seen a performer so happy to be there, so impishly playful yet so masterfully intelligent, so humble yet so self confident, so respectful of his musicians yet so revered by them, and so equally respectful of his audience while having us eat out of his hands, in awe.

Excellent band – drums and bass, electric guitar, acoustic 12 string and mandolin, keyboards, sax and other “blowing” instruments, three wonderful backing singers and Leonard (who occasionally strummed a guitar or tinkled a keyboard, although seemingly unnecessarily).

This was poetry set to music, as everyone who appreciates Leonard Cohen knows. But I think compared to earlier Leonard Cohen, the music has become more integral to the songs rather than just the accompaniment to the words. A very complete and uplifting experience.

The highlights were many. In fact every song was a highlight – and there were many of them because I think he must have played for almost 3 hours.

Without trying to put them in any order, we were graced with: Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, Tower of Song, Hallelujah, Bird on a Wire, I’m Your Man, Dance Me to the End of Love, and some of the more recent ones like Boogie Street, In My Secret Life and A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Having seen Van the Man doing Astral Weeks live at the Hollywood Bowl in November, and that being my all-time concert high watermark, this one came close – that’s how good Leonard Cohen was. Perhaps equal to Springsteen’s The Rising tour, which was my previous high watermark (at least I think it was – so easy to change your mind about these things!).

So that’s been my week – how about yours?

Andrew in Adelaide

Leonard Cohen, Conor Oberst and John McLaughlin – top gigs for grown-ups in 2008

December 29, 2008
The year just ending was a vintage year for live music. From grand opera house to sweaty rock dive, and worthy municipal folk gig to massive arena poprock spectacular, I saw some great musicians for grown-ups performing in 2008.

The five gigs which will linger longest in my memory were:

1. Leonard Cohen – London O2
2. Conor Oberst – Portsmouth
3. John McLaughlin – Barbican
4. Bjork – Plymouth
5. Cecilia Bartoli – Barbican

And the two next best were:
6. Morrissey – Roundhouse
7. Hansel & Gretel – Royal Opera House

What were your top 5 gigs? Please share your list with other readers – please email me at info@musicforgrown-ups.com

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen – in depth – on UNCUT magazine’s website

November 19, 2008
UNCUT magazine has a Leonard Cohen feature although, unlike the current MOJO, Lenny doesn’t grace the cover (Paul Weller does).

Stealing a march on its great rival, UNCUT has cleverly used the out-takes from the interviews with Cohen associates for a series of traffic-building bonus articles on its website.

Recommended.

www.uncut.co.uk

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EARLIER RELATED ARTICLE:

Leonard Cohen celebrated in new MOJO

As Leonard Cohen prepares for the next leg of his triumphant world tour, the new (“December”) issue of MOJO, the London-based heritage rock monthly, has an impressive 11-page feature on the great poet-musician. Recommended.

Most of it’s taken up by a probing new interview and a buyer’s guide to the Cohen discography, both by Sylvie Simmons.

MOJO also has a Lenny cover – a recent portrait complete with grey goatee beard and rakish peaked cap – and a free CD of new covers of Cohen songs.

(The US edition apparently has a Metallica cover, lending support to the line peddled here that the US doesn’t really get Laughing Len as much as Europe – or Canada.)

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen celebrated in new MOJO

October 31, 2008
As Leonard Cohen prepares for the next leg of his triumphant world tour, the new (“December”) issue of MOJO, the London-based heritage rock monthly, has an impressive 11-page feature on the great poet-musician. Recommended.

Most of it’s taken up by a probing new interview and a buyer’s guide to the Cohen discography, both by Sylvie Simmons.

MOJO also has a Lenny cover – a recent portrait complete with grey goatee beard and rakish peaked cap – and a free CD of new covers of Cohen songs.

(The US edition apparently has a Metallica cover, lending support to the line peddled here that the US doesn’t really get Laughing Len as much as Europe – or Canada.)

Gerry Smith

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RELATED RECENT ARTICLE, (18 July 2008)

Leonard Cohen in London: Hallelujah!

Death-bed scene: “Well, Dad, that’s the money sorted out: you seem to have blown most of it on live music. As a matter of interest, what were your top five gigs?”

I think I’d have to include last night’s London leg of the Leonard Cohen tour at the O2 (aka Millennium Dome).

The septuagenarian charmer delivered almost three hours of intense beauty, deep joy and not a little glee.

For the assembled 20,000, it was a predictably reverential (if unexpectedly intimate), celebration of a major, rarely seen, talent.

The setlist (below) was remarkable, Zeitgeist-marking signature songs succeeding each other, relentlessly. Cohen’s performance was energetic, engaged, generous. His singing made you suspect that maybe he really does have the gift of a golden voice after all. His spoken renditions, particularly of A Thousand Kisses Deep, were deeply moving.

Hallelujah! What a writer! What a performer! What a charismatic, inspirational man.

Band – 6 plus 3 vocalists – were accomplished accomplices. Horn-man Dino Soldo was particularly impressive. Sound quality was the best I’ve heard at an amplified gig. Staging, lighting, vision/mixing on big screens were all benchmark quality.

I’d waited many years to see Leonard, the second best writer/performer of the rock era. It was well worth the wait.

SETLIST (approximate):

1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. The Future
3. Ain’t No Cure for Love
4. Bird on a Wire
5. Everybody Knows
6. In My Secret Life
7. Who by Fire
8. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
9. Anthem
10. Tower of Song
11. Suzanne
12. The Gypsy’s Wife
13. Boogie Street
14. Hallelujah
15. Democracy
16. I’m Your Man
17. Take This Waltz
18. First We Take Manhattan
19. Sisters of Mercy
20. If It Be Your Will
21. A Thousand Kisses Deep
22. So Long, Marianne
23. Closing Time
24. I Tried to Leave You
25. Whither Thou Goest

A perfect 10, then?

Not quite. A churl could point to the slight unevenness of the setlist: it flagged a bit towards the end of the second half. The finales were underwhelming – the welcome Webb Sisters duet was wrongly positioned; Closing Time is dramatically and melodically too weak to close a show.

And there was an ever-present threat that the show might tip over into mainstream showbiz hoopla – Leonard’s frequent name-checking of the band palled early; he was far too nice to the assembled hordes; and you suspected that the “spontaneous” jokes had been the same at most gigs on the tour.

For most performers, all this would have been a turn-off. For Leonard, we can make an exception.

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen – the Canadian Dylan?

July 21, 2008
I saw Leonard Cohen for the first time last week, at London’s O2 Arena. It was a magnificent gig.

So thanks to Anne Ritchie for her timely article on Leonard and Dylan:

“Just as Ira B Nadel’s book, Various Positions – A Life Of Leonard Cohen, was turning a little tedious, with its microscopic examination of the (French) Canadian (Jewish) literary scene and references to authors I’d never heard of (and was unlikely to ever want to discover), my interest was reawakened in the middle chapter (Chapter 7), when Bob Dylan appeared for the first time.

“We had arrived at 1966, when Cohen, aged 31, was about to embark on his singing career. At an all-day poetry get-together, none of his fellow poets had heard of this Dylan who Cohen was raving about. One of his friends went out immediately to buy Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, but when they were played they had little impact. Only Cohen was impressed, declaring he would become the Canadian Dylan: music seemed more lucrative than literature.

“En route to Nashville, Cohen stopped off in New York, where he stayed, on and off, for two years. There he was introduced to fellow Canadian Mary Martin, an assistant to Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. It was Martin who arranged for fellow Canadians the Hawks, later known as The Band, to back Dylan. (She also managed Van Morrison for a time.)

“With Martin as his manager, Cohen established himself in the New York music scene. John Hammond, who had also discovered Dylan, signed him to Columbia Records.

“At this point in Various Positions, we see various members of Dylan’s circle from Cohen’s perspective: arguments with Joan Baez over drugs, his infatuation with Nico… .

“It was not until autumn 1969 that Cohen and Dylan met for the first time. Dylan heard that Cohen was at another Village folk club and summoned him to the Kettle of Fish. Their mutual admiration is no secret. Cohen has described Dylan as a Picasso – exuberant, wide-ranging, and assimilating the history of music. Dylan is reported to have gone backstage at several Cohen concerts, and even called in to the recording studios with Allen Ginsberg to sing back-up on Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On, a notorious track on the Phil Spector-produced album, Death of A Ladies’ Man.

“As author Nadel remarks, Cohen and Dylan share some qualities in their song-writing, notably sophisticated lyrics and elegant melodies. They both draw heavily from The Bible. Nadel adds that neither had much of a voice.

“I’d agree that early Lennie can sometimes embarrass with flat notes, but his speaking voice is rich and sonorous and his singing improved with confidence. Dylan could always sing. Listening to his early songs, forty five years down the line, I am often surprised by the force of his singing, the phrasing and the way he holds onto notes. And though his singing voice has seen better days, his speaking voice continues to charm.

“Cohen’s trademark is the most felicitous turn of phrase, both in speech and song. Phrases in his songs impress me with their beauty even when I struggle to comprehend them. Often described as hypnotic, his melodies can draw you in to an intimate world. Only in later songs, as in those in The Future, does Cohen seem to break out from his enclosed world – though his two most recent albums, Ten New Songs, and Dear Heather, see him once again retreating into Planet Leonard.

“Various Positions gives a detailed, informative picture of Leonard Cohen the man and consequently many insights into his (relatively limited) musical output.

“By comparison, Dylan’s vast and varied output reflects a boundless curiosity. It reveals a man looking outwards as well as inwards.”

Great rockpop lyricists – new series of collectable free booklets

June 23, 2008
Bob Dylan was the launch title of Great Lyricists, a new series of collectable booklets given away with Saturday 21 June’s edition of The Guardian, the London liberal-left daily newspaper.

The nicely designed booklet, running to 26 pages, includes the lyrics of eight Bob songs, six from the 1960s, plus Tangled Up In Blue and Blind Willie McTell.

The series of eight freebies continued in yesterday’s sister paper The Observer, with Broooooooooce Springsteen, and today’s Guardian with Morrissey.

Remaining subjects include Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, as well as Chuck D, Patti Smith and a young lad from the Arctic-Something-or-Others.

I’ll be buying all bar two, filing the beautifully designed but unwanted rag in the bin, on my out of the filling station shop.

Gerry Smith

Lovely gigs in 2008

April 4, 2008

After a couple of years in which my gigging became a bit narrowly focussed and predictable – mainly opera, with a bit of jazz, world and rock – 2008 is promising to be rather more richly eclectic. 

Having already seen three compelling gigs – Morrissey at the Roundhouse, Dorothea Roschmann singing Lieder at Vienna’s Musikverein, and Salome at Covent Garden, I’m keenly anticipating lots more varied shows, including several key musicians for grown-ups who’ve been on my must-see list for years:

 

April: Bjork     

 

May: Roberto Alagna; John McLaughlin

 

June: Don Carlo; Ariadne; Pentangle

 

July: Leonard Cohen; Marriage of Figaro

 

Dec: Cecilia Bartoli

 

Having re-found the taste for eclectic gigs, I’m eagerly looking for others – top live music for grown-ups is one of the greatest thrills of all.

   Gerry Smith