11th November 2008
Leonard Cohen in Bournemouth last night was brilliant, perfect sound, perfect band, everything. It’s a notoriously difficult space, and has just been refurbished, and the sound crew achieved the best balance I’ve ever heard in there. Every instrument is distinct all the way through. We were close to the front, which was a privilege and a pleasure. The venue is a 3000-seater, but it’s so much smaller than the O2 that it felt intimate. It sounded even better than the O2, and an already polished band was even tighter and smoother.
The set was much the same, with the break where you expected it, and Tower of Song starting the second set. He’d changed a couple of songs from London in July … we got The Partisan (half in French) and Famous Blue Raincoat, but lost Closing Time and Sisters of Mercy.
The local factor was apparent … he dropped in a new line with a reference to Shelley’s heart in Tower of Song (the heart is buried in Bournemouth) and to Robert Louis Stevenson who also lived in the town. Mary Shelley’s buried there as well, but she didn’t get a mention!
Also noticeable was the Obama factor. When he got to ‘Democracy is coming … to the USA’ in Democracy, there was an instant cheer … and he was expecting it, so it’s a clear Europe-wide reaction to Obama.
The band is as good as any you’ll ever see in every department, but Roscoe Beck, the 5-string bass player / musical director is outstanding. One thing I noticed, there were two harmonica solos (by Dino Soldo, the sax player) and both had a totally clean harmonica sound. Not a trace of Blues / Sonny Boy / Dylan / Young / Springsteen / Levon / Van Morrison squawk (I mean that in the nicest possible way). Just straight melody … it made me think of Larry Adler!
The three backing singers, Sharon Robinson, Charlie Webb and Hattie Webb, are a major ingredient in the secret. They’re integral in a way that few backing singers ever are, with Leonard, hat in hand, watching them in quiet appreciation. A reminder to look out for the Webb Sisters CD … they were brilliant all night on backing vocals, enlived by suddenly doing their unison cartwheel at one point.