Monday 26th August 2013
Start: 19.40, Finish 23.00
Leonard Cohen – vocals, guitar, keyboard (on Tower of Song)
Roscoe Beck – bass guitar, double bass, vocals, Musical Director
Neil Larsen – Hammond B3, keyboards, accordion
Javier Mas – bandurria, laud, archilaud, mandolin, electric guitar
Rafael Gayol – drums
Mitch Watkins – acoustic and electric guitars, vocal.
Alexandru Bublitchi – violin
Sharon Robinson – vocals, percussion
Charlie Webb – vocals, guitar (in If It Be Your Will)
Hattie Webb – vocals, harp
Dance Me To The End of Love
Bird On The Wire
Solo instrumental – Javier Mas
Who By Fire
The Gypsy Wife
Come Healing – The Webb Sisters, plus LC
Lover Lover Lover
Tower of Song
Chelsea Hotel #2
Waiting For The Miracle
Alexandra Leaving – Sharon Robinson
I’m Your Man
Take This Waltz
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhatten
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will – The Webb Sisters
I Tried To Leave You
79 Years young: fuzzy iPhone, but it gets the mood. Roscoe Beck on 5-string bass guitar
Fourth time around. The other three were 2008 to 2009, and it’s hard to believe nearly five years have passed since he was in Bournemouth in November 2008 in the same hall, just three miles from my house too. Leonard announced that he’d been there five years ago, had wanted to come back, but hadn’t wanted to make a nuisance of himself.
I browsed the recent setlists on line and he really is changing things around and taking songs from less-expected places like New Skin For Old Ceremony, Songs of Love & Hate and Various Positions, though the solid core is still The Future and I’m Your Man tracks. Some songs are fixed in their positions, others not, and there might be two encores or three, and the sets vary in length. It’s the first chance to hear songs from Old Ideas. It all builds up the anticipation.
We got virtually three hours … it started at 7.40, and ended at 11.00 with around 20 or 25 minutes interval. If anything Leonard looks younger than four years ago, though the band might have aged a bit! It was £10 more expensive than Van Morrison last year, but it was also exactly twice as long. A bargain!
The show has changed in many subtle ways, partly due to incorporating songs from Old Ideas, but that’s by no means all. The sound is gentler, and the switch from a horn player (or rather instrument of wind player) to a powerful violinist shifts the overall texture towards the European café feel of several of his numbers. The stage as before, has Sharon Robinson and The Webb Sisters stage right, then Neil Larson’s keyboards on a riser behind them, with the drums central, and Musical Director and bass player Roscoe Beck just stage right of the drums. Then there’s the shift … the other three guys sit on plush chairs in a curve stage left, and only the violinist, Alexandru Bublitchi, stood to take solos, Javier Mas and Mitch Watkins stay seated. While we’re on the band, we have Canadian, Texan, Californian, Mexican, Spanish, Moldovan and English musicians. Mitch Watkins played with Leonard in the past, and is reunited for this tour. He made himself known on the third song in, Bird On The Wire, with a truly exceptional Telecaster solo. Alexandru got in even earlier with his violin part in the opener, Dance Me To The End of Love. His style is flamboyant, melodic and very East European to my ears, a different way with the violin than the cheerful fiddling I’ve seen from English musicians this year. Definitely a violinist, not a fiddler. A mild surprise at innovation was seeing Javier Mas use electric guitar in a couple of songs.
The sound as ever is immaculate. Not just good, but every nuance of every instrument and voice is clearly separated and we’re operating at hi-fi volume, so that the drummer uses brushes virtually throughout … the first time I noticed a switch to sticks was the encore First We Take Manhatten. It’s definitely gentler, most apparent on the heaviest loudest stuff of past shows, like The Future and First We Take Manhatten. Hearing every word is essential, and you do, and it’s noticeable how several wry or amusing lines in songs evoke audience laughs. Going Home’s line change (no plot spoiler) got a lot of laughter as well as sympathetic “Aahs.”
The material from Old Ideas is also presented differently to the album. There’s a set of three in the first half: Darkness, Amen and Come Healing. In the second half we were treated to Anyhow in a long languid jazzy version, introduced by a long chat by Leonard about really needing to hold a cigarette for the song. That was beautifully arranged and lit in pinky gold, and judging by recent setlists we were lucky to get it. Then Going Home appears in the encores. One contrast was Darkness was gentler, but even more haunting than the original.
The Partisan was marked by changing the stage positioning to a line across, with Neil Larsen changing to piano accordion, then Roscoe Beck on double bass, and violin joining the front line. It must be accordion, but it suddenly gave a European wartime look. Javier Mas changed to yet another instrument, and it looked like bouzouki. The partisan in the song is international, and I’d always thought France, WW2 because of the section in French, but I thought of his time in Greece suddenly, there was something in the air of it.
The early years always get special cheers, and we got Suzanne, Chelsea Hotel #2, Bird On The Wire and So Long Marianne all to major applause. Leonard had his trademark black guitar on for at least half a dozen numbers, including all the early songs. Chelsea Hotel #2 is always a beautiful song, and Leonard has apologized in the past for his indiscretion in revealing it was about Janis Joplin, though Janis was more explicit about the event herself. The sadness of You got away, yeah, didn’t you, babe? You turned your back on the crowd is always moving, but tonight the lines that rang out were:
Those were the reasons and that was New York
We were running for the money and the flesh
And that was called love for the workers in song
Probably still is for those of them left
It reminded me of first how many musicians have gone, but also that for the workers in song, the only way to make a living now is touring at seventy-nine.
L to R: Mitch Watkins, Alexandru Bublitchi, Javier Mas … iPhone
Leonard has always been generous with credits to his band on stage (the whole lighting crew deservedly got named … see below), but he’s also given more prominence to his singers. The Webb Sisters add Come Healing to the sublime If It Be Your Will that they’ve been doing since 2008. At these concerts there’s always a song that’s sitting on your shoulder as you go home, and is buzzing in your brain all night, and tonight it was Come Healing. The song has always been lovely, but live you realize it is a hymn for 2013. Sharon Robinson gets to do her co-composition Alexandra Leaving and does it so well that she received a long full standing ovation at the end, mid-set. Then both Charlie Webb and Hattie Webb get to duet individually on songs with Leonard. When they’re singing without him, Leonard listens attentively right the way through, hat in hand. Not for him, a quick nip backstage for a glass of water or a sit down. Even 20-something musicians take an offstage break in a drum solo. Not Leonard. He listens to every note with rapt concentration.
L to R: Charlie Webb, Hattie Webb, Sharon Robinson, Neil Larsen
The women have worked even more on their synchronized moves to, so that even approaching the mics from the darkness midsong is perfectly synched. The Webb Sisters cartwheels have gone, but there are lovely touches when the spotlight hits them on the (changed) line about white girls dancing and the glances exchanged on sisters. Javier Mas has been a vital component too, and his long solo piece before Who By Fire is one I’d count as a separate number.
I spent the summers of my youth doing lights, just a couple of hundred yards away in the now demolished hall that the Bournemouth International Centre replaced. The lights tonight were “cold” that is state-of-the-art LED, so they could be manoeuvred and colours switched easily (the colour palette is available within each light all the time). As we were in the third row, we would have felt the heat of normal lighting after three hours, and I seriously think the cold light helps performers do an extra half hour. It sounds daft, but I’d like to see the show again just to watch the lighting plot. It was subtle, alive, constantly changing, in other words a completely brilliant lighting plot perfectly executed. On the background work, I noticed how rapid and smooth the transitions were between songs. Lights lower. Three guitar technicians appear softly from different angles and switch guitars, the lights go back up. There’s no onstage tuning or fiddling around ever.