Back in the late 1980s I shared the top floor of 408-1/2 George Street North in Peterborough with the late David Bierk. David had one cassette tape, Famous Blue Raincoat, which features Jennifer Warnes singing the songs of Leonard Cohen. David listened to the tape over and over and over; while he was painting his large canvases, I was programming in Turbo Pascal, and the songs on that album became infused into my DNA.
That album was my route into Leonard Cohen and, to be honest, listening to the man himself always seemed like a come-down: for me, they were Jennifer Warnes songs that happened to be written by that Cohen fellow. It really never got much deeper than that.
Catherine, on the other hand, is a Leonard Cohen fan of the “he’s a deep and profound songwriter who touches me deeply” school. I’m sure there’s an unspoken degree of “…and twice the man you’ll ever be” in there too. Not in a spiteful way, simply as a matter of fact.
And so this spring when it was announced that Cohen’s Canadian tour would be stopping in Charlottetown, I gave passing thought to igniting Catherine’s passsions and getting tickets. Unfortunately my devotion to the cause was half-hearted, and when tickets sell out in two hours, the half-hearted man never wins.
Fortunately my billionaire industrialist friend happened to have four spare tickets at his disposal, and casually mentioned that I could take two of them off his hands if I wanted. I immediately agreed, and Catherine, suffice to say, was pleased.
Which is how we came to be in Balcony Row B, seats 4 and 5 last night for the big show, Catherine prepared to be swept off her feet, me reconciled to hearing half-hearted gravely renditions of Jennifer Warnes tunes.
An older performer staging a “comeback” tour like Cohen — he’s 74 now and on his first tour since he was 60 — is going to end up somewhere on a spectrum that starts with Buena Vista Social Club and ends with The Love Boat. In other words, you’re either seasoned pro who’s still got it, or you’re Cab Calloway dancing with Captain Stubing.
For the first act of last night’s show things weren’t looking good: the orchestrations were very poppy, with lots of Hammond B3 and synth. It felt like 1988 all over again. The fact the Cohen is, by his very nature, a parody of himself, didn’t make the situation any better.
The second act, however, saved if for me. Not only was the music more adventurous, but Cohen relaxed and became more engaged with the audience, and the considerable talents of his band were allowed to shine. By the time Hallelujah rolled around, I was ready to call myself an adherent, and after the fourth encore I was sold.
Catherine, of course, didn’t need to be convinced.
It was quite a show.