Leonard Cohen

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.


oliver's picture
oliver on May 19, 2008 - 18:08 Permalink

Lucky you. I’m a late convert to Cohen too. More “Who By Fire” and “the Partisan” than “Hallelujah.”

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on May 20, 2008 - 14:50 Permalink

Second the lucky statement. It would have been quite a PEI event, I’m sure. I hope the two teachers at Bluefield that got me into Cohen were there. My personal favourite Leonard Cohen memories are an interview he did with Peter Gzowski in the early 90s around the release of “The Future” and Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” at last year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on May 20, 2008 - 17:09 Permalink

Huge kudos to whomever did the lights for the show (brown? gray? magenta? — unheard of!).

Hammond B3 and Leslie 147 tone cabinet, a Fender Rhodes!!!, some sort of electric clarinet (with pitch bend!), a true chromatic harmonica, a host of exotic guitars, a hybrid drum kit, some kind of Star Wars-looking keyboard without keys, well… that’s just a smidge of the exotic gear they had on stage. Every bit of it exquisitely played under the influence of musical directorship that left Cohen’s poetry front and centre. They did everything but carry groceries for Ms. White.

(The three georgeous women, superbly talented singer/collaborators, struck a blow against clevage giving up nothing but ugly in the doing (finally). Elizabethan-style chest-crack being right up there with the too-lazy-to-hike-the-jeans-up-look of an appliance repairman — ‘cept it’s in yer face).

Keith's picture
Keith on May 22, 2008 - 18:01 Permalink

The show was fabulous. I had enjoyed his work for some time, but that concert made me a real fan.

Oliver Rukavina's picture
Oliver Rukavina on November 11, 2016 - 07:05 Permalink

It's Sad that He Died Yesterday.