Wednesday, April 15, 2009
FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERING
the nine piece band came out & took their places, followed quickly by cohen. the crowd came to its feet, appropriately applauding his first appearance in the bay area for 15 years. as i settled back in my seat, the folks in front of me were still standing, blocking our view of the stage but suddenly through the crowd noise, i heard the siren's first notes clear & strong, "lala, lalalalalala, lalalalalala, lalala." the folks in front of us succumbed to the music as it filled the hall & sat. so began the concert.
that first song,"dance me to the end of love," is from cohen's 1984 album, various positions. he did two more songs from that album("hallelujah" & "if it be your will")during the 3 & 1/2hour concert, which ranged widely through his body of works easily. from his first album, 1967's songs of leonard cohen to 2001's ten new songs he covered at least one song from seven of the remaining eight albums(the exception: '77s death of a ladies man). the band, so flexible & multi-talented, proceeded to adopt each period's sound while adapting them to tighter tho lighter arrangements. the folky early songs, particularly "suzanne," which flowed w/subtle suppleness, while "the partisan" pulsed w/an urgency lacking in the original, were invigorated. the three great songs he did from his middle folk period("famous blue raincoat," "chelsea hotel #2," "who by fire")remained precisely that: great songs, tho "who by fire" was the standout, again pulsing w/vigor.
the larger part of the song selections came from his post-folk carbaret/serge gainesboro albums, starting w/the somewhat startling(at the time)i'm your man('88) through his last studio album. w/the exception of "democracy," which suffered more from WHERE it was placed in the dynamic of the evening's song selection than from its qualities as a song in cohen's oeuvre, all of the songs were powerful, skillfully arranged, & thoughtfully placed in the flow of the show's rhythm. standouts for me were "everybody knows," "anthem," "tower of song," "i'm your man," & " first we take manhattan."
"hallelujah" suffered from overexposure. the band did fine & cohen's voice actually made it to most of the notes(tho it didn't stay at any very long)but the song has been done nearly to death at this point & buckley & wainwright's versions just intruded on the experience for me. that's funny when you consider how much cohen was covered in his early years. judy collins or jennifer warnes did NOT intrude on my experience this evening. nowadays, the aesthetic seems to be beating to death whatever's currently popular w/the masses. or it may be that the overblown qualities(certainly wainwright's is all about rufus & his range & NOT about the song at all) from the more recent interpretations pale in comparison w/the older ones.
for sheer beauty & poignancy, "if it be your will" was right there w/"famous blue raincoat" & "chelsea hotel #2." cohen recited the first verse & then stood back & let the webb sisters treat the song to an astonishing vocal display that lifted cohen's "prayer, really" up into the heavens. it was during this song that i thought to myself how blessed we've been that cohen had the will to sing & that he's endured. i also thought about the loss we'll endure when this kind of beauty is no longer fashioned into song by him(& others too). cohen has ALWAYS been about beauty: it's glory & the suffering it brings, the melancholy & the ecstasy. embodied by the sirens, it can drive you mad w/longing or destroy you outright. but it is, at least for cohen, unavoidably necessary on the long voyage home. & since he's lashed himself to the masts & done all that he could to survive, he's deeply grateful to those who've done the same. "thank you friends," he said, " for keeping my songs alive these long years."
he also deferred vocals on "boogie street" to his long-time collaborator, sharon robinson. she has a cool, smoky voice & it fit the song tho, in truth, i'd love to hear cassandra wilson cover it.
the crowd was pretty much the standard east bay crowd. as many folks there making the scene(ann pointed out a guy my age in front of us who twittered a message, "wow! britany spears & leonard cohen all in one week!!!)as were long-time fans. the venue was excellent. we'd seen merle haggard there a year or so ago. it's a good size & the acoustics are good. we had good ground floor seats. the one glitch on the practical side was the paramount folks deciding to give the women all but one bathroom. as far as i know, there were no fistfights over this. this cohen guy brings out a cultured crowd, i guess.
the million dollar question, the one that mike will mostly address no doubt, is whether the concert was worth the money. the answer for me is, yes. period. i WILL add that it was not(& probably couldn't be)as good a concert as the two i saw him do way back when & that i've already written about here. being younger, i was less jaded & more open to surprize. cohen was touring w/another excellent band then & he'd just put out one of his strongest albums(new skin for the old ceremony). he was in excellent voice & played guitar throughout. there was less "show," no skipping off stage or singing from the knees or hat's off appreciation of crowd or band solos(he did all of that at the oakland show). there wasn't a hat in atlanta.
but he was in good voice in oakland too. he possessed the entire lower register of his song's range w/ease &, like i said, rose up to meet the slight demands of the higher registers. his singing on the older quieter songs wasn't as thin as i'd feared it would be. & i don't mind the sirens. cohen has always always had them w/him, from the first album to the atlanta shows to oakland. ann felt like he used them too much & that they were covering some of his vocal deficiencies & i agree somewhat w/the latter but not the former complaint. like i said, they've always been w/him &, as he said in oakland during "i'm your man," their sound "heals" him.
being older & more jaded, however, means, it seems to me, that he actually had to work a little harder here in oakland to get through to me. as a long time admirer, i wasn't buying the aforementioned "showy" tricks. i didn't let the cohen mythos(bankrupt jewish novelist & poet folk music superstar buddhist monk) contaminate my experience. i let the music speak as it's spoken now for nearly 45years(just listen to the extraordinary song "a thousand kisses deep" if you think he's lost his lyrical skills or even "in my secret life"). the power of that kind of persuasion can't be denied.
of course, if there were flaws, we'd already been warned:
"forget your perfect offering.
there's a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in."