All around the world there’s versions of me. No I don’t mean Hannah lookalikes, eating burgers in Springsteen t-shirts. What I mean is there’s people who love a particular person’s music like I do with Bruce Springsteen
One of these people is my dear friend Jessie, and her artist of choice? It’s Leonard Cohen
|Roll down the windows, and let the wind blow back your hair
Like me, Jessie was introduced to Leonard Cohen’s music by her parents, the same way my dad got me listening to Bruce. Jessie and I met when we were 11 and over the years we’ve spent a lot of fun times together. We’ve hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, rafted down grade five rapids in Australia and hurled ourselves out of small tin planes (although we aren’t as sporty as this would lead you to believe, trust me). As well as all of these athletic antics, we’ve sung along to Les Miserables
at the top of our lungs, bonded over the joys of custard and pretended to be 18 when we’ve in fact been….13.
Out of all these happy memories though, one of the most poignant was the first time I saw Leonard Cohen live with Jessie. That was Glastonbury Festival
With a few bands we were all keen to see, the most important of the whole weekend was Leonard Cohen, Canadian songwriter and poet. At the age of 78, the majority of his fans aren’t the kind to fight you for the barrier, so at Glastonbury that year, we walked right to the front and watched one of the most humble, beautiful performers of all time. Jessie was in a world of her own, and I knew how happy she felt watching him on the stage.
With such a powerful introduction, it was impossible to not start loving his music myself. Since then, we’ve seen Leonard Cohen at Benicassim Festival in Spain, before I’ve gone on to see him in St Mark’s Square in Venice and more recently in Lucca, Italy, a few days before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Rome.
When I saw that Leonard Cohen was playing at the new venue in Leeds, I didn’t have much choice but to go. The last time I’d been here was just weeks earlier, seeing one of the most intense and incredible Bruce Springsteen concerts to date
. Back then I talked about the acoustics of the building, the intimate feel and that Bruce himself told us how it was a great place to play. I knew Leonard’s deep hypnotising voice would sound just as good.
At 7.30pm, the Webb sisters, Cohen’s female angelic ‘backing singers’ had us transfixed at the first “la la” of the opener ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ which made Cohen, a man in his 70s, beam with a smile of a small boy as he joyfully danced along. From that first song the hours passed in a haze of intoxicatingly beautiful singing. Despite his age and demanding length of his tours, Leonard performs with a respectful commitment to his audience, and he swept us along with every word. ‘The Future’, ‘Bird On A Wire’ and ‘Everybody Knows’, to the song I remember most vividly from the first time I saw Leonard Cohen, ‘Who By Fire’ – eerily brilliant with a mesmerising several minute Spanish guitar intro from Javier Mas.
When I see Leonard Cohen it’s impossible to not be captivated by every single song, whatever the setting. The way he performs, sings and recites has me hooked. As the first notes of each song started I exclaimed to my neighbours “I just love this one. I love it”. ‘Gypsy Wife’, on to a twangy ‘Darkness’ and the faultless ‘Amen’, which was one of the highlights (if I was forced to choose) for me on the night.
‘Come Healing’, ‘Lover Lover Lover’ and ‘Anthem’, we watched the genius Canadian poet-songwriter in astonishment before seeing his dry humorous side as he tinkled the keyboard during ‘Tower Of Song’, before he told us about the dalliance with ‘Suzanne’.
The set list continued with a heart achingly good ‘Chelsea Hotel’, with just Leonard on guitar the audience knew the lyrics off by heart but hung on every word, not daring to move an inch in their seats in case it broke the spell we were under. Later there was shimmying of shoulders to ‘Waiting For The Miracle’, prompting the lady in front of me to cry out “OH BLOODY HELL” in joy.
‘The Partisan’ was haunting in the arena, captivating us further with every word. ‘In My Secret Life’ and Sharron Robinson’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’ sounded even more powerful with the incredible acoustics of the venue, before another favourite ‘I’m Your Man’ (I can’t help but remember how suggestively this made the elderly Italian women dance in Venice a few years ago). ‘Hallelujah’ followed before we were led straight into ‘Take This Waltz’. “This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz” I challenge any man (or woman actually) to admit they weren’t left spellbound by The Webb Sisters
The crooning continued with ‘So Long Marianne’ and ‘Going Home’ before a brief thank you and goodbye. But returning to the stage with a skip it was time for an up-tempo ‘First We Take Manhattan’, which had the audience jiggling in their seats. Next the song I’d been hoping for most since last time, ‘If It Be Your Will’, sung by the Webb sisters. In that one song I found myself seduced by two beautiful women, deathly silent the audience didn’t dare to breathe, whilst Lenny looked on at the sisters in awe.
A humble performer, in total admiration of his band. Much like Springsteen there’s a huge amount of respect for the people supporting him on stage, from his band to his rigger, Leonard would detract attention from himself with thank yous and acknowledgements. Witty and quick, he humoured the audience who responded with cheers and clapping, and everyone celebrated the opportunity of spending a special few hours with Leonard Cohen. He sung us a goodbye with an appropriately energetic and almost addictive (I didn’t want it to end) ‘Closing Time’.
Skipping around the stage, returning for encore after encore and with a 29 strong set list finishing just as late as Springsteen did in Leeds, Lenny does something to his fans that Bruce also does for his. Despite the differences in music style, there’s more similarities between the two artists than you might initially think.
I’ve been introduced to someone whose music I love, after witnessing a friend’s passion for an artist whose music means so much to her. I hope that whether it’s through me writing on this blog or me talking in person, whether you’re a stranger or a friend, that I can encourage others to try out Springsteen’s music like I tried out Lenny’s. I hope you’ll start to love it like I do.
In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Amen”.
PS, here’s some brilliant footage from the night:
Who By Fire
If It Be Your Will