Those Rare, Unconfirmed Sightings Of Neil Larsen During The Leonard Cohen World Tour
While membership in any backup band dooms all but the most flamboyant to semi-invisibility for the duration of the gig, Neil Larsen, who played keyboards throughout the Leonard Cohen World Tour, must be in the running for Best Camouflaged Musician.
After all, when one is, as per Leonard Cohen’s introduction, “today’s foremost exponent of the Hammond B-3 Organ,” one’s value as a musician depends on remaining within reach of an instrument that, including bench and pedalboard, weighs in at 425 pounds/193 kg.1 The foremost exponent of the Hammond B-3 is not, for example, likely to be sprinting the length of the stage in emulation of Bruce Springsteen. And since 425 pound organs are typically positioned in the rear of the stage off to one side, the musicians playing them are also delegated to the periphery of the performance area.
Even the lightweight keyboards Larsen plays constitute a constraint to any performer less rambunctious than Jerry Lee Lewis or less flagrantly outrageous than Liberace.
Neil Larsen’s existence in (literally) the shadows on stage was, in fact, the inspiration for
The Where’s Neil Larsen? Game2
In the standard Leonard Cohen World Tour template, Larsen and his Hammond are situated behind the back-up singers on stage right. Consequently, as demonstrated in the screenshot below, the audience’s view and the view afforded by audience-shot videos of the keyboardist are routinely obstructed.3 As a result, Neil Larsen is the least seen and least recognizable World Tour band member.
There is the occasional photo taken at the precise angle to catch Mr Larsen but even then destiny, in the form of sunglasses in this case, can thwart easy recognition.
To help rectify this injustice, Heck Of A Guy is proud to offer this shot of Neil Larsen at work. Study it, commit it to memory. This will be on the final exam.
Neil Larsen On Display – Sorta
As is true of many stars, Leonard Cohen specifies one song to showcase his backup singers and his band, each musician showing off his or her skills in a brief solo. Most often, this song has been “I Tried To Leave You.”
Even here, Larsen is shortchanged. As demonstrated by the video from the 2009 Lisbon show, when Neil Larsen is playing his solo, his hands and the keyboard are unseen until the final bars and even then only the tops of his hands and wrists are visible. Compare that to Bob Metzger’s intense focus on his guitar fingerings or the way Roscoe Beck twists his body around his bass. And what can Larsen do to compare with Rafael Gayol tossing his drumstick above his head – balance the piano bench on his nose?
Leonard Cohen – I Tried To Leave You (Lisbon 2009)
Video from albertnoonan
It requires, in fact, special efforts to reveal Neil Larsen. As pointed out in The Incidental Highlight Of The Leonard Cohen World Tour “Heart With No Companion”,
… the backup singers[‘] … choreography … was originally inserted to stylishly move the singers, usually stationed directly in front of Neil Larsen, aside to unveil the usually (and lamentably) hidden keyboardist.
This video from the Grand Odense Opry should automatically start just before the pertinent part of the performance.
Leonard Cohen – Heart With No Companion (Odense 8/14/2010)
Video from FrostbiteZ1
The next video, which is from the 2009 Weybridge concert, starts at the same point of Heart With No Companion and shows, in addition to the Webb Sisters and Sharon Robinson dancing with arms linked (perhaps in hopes of protecting themselves from being blown away by the gale force winds that day), Neil Larsen’s artistry and adaptability as he performs his solo with his hands – and only his hands – beneath a tarp protecting the instrument4 from the weather.
Leonard Cohen – Heart with No Companion (Weybridge, 7/11/2009)
Video from albertnoonan
Observing this scene, one cannot help but be struck by the notion that this ain’t Neil Larsen’s first rodeo.
Watching World Tour concert videos, starting with the 2009 European shows, however, I became more aware of and impressed by the musicianship of Neil Larsen on keyboards. Those moments in the “Hallelujah” video from the 2008 London concert when Larsen’s organ predominates offer a good example of those skills. The video should automatically begin at the pertinent section.
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah (London O2, July 17, 2008)
The Impeccable Neil Larsen
Of course, Hard To Find is not equivalent to Not Respected. Certainly Cohen’s introduction of Neil Larsen transmits Cohen’s respect for the keyboardist:
On the keyboards,
in his own right, a renowned bandleader,
a Grammy nominated artist and composer,
today’s foremost exponent of the Hammond B-3 Organ,
a musician’s musician,
the impeccable Neil Larsen5
But Part 2 of this look at – and look for – Neil Larsen will focus on his extra-Cohenistic activities, where his talents and his fans are far more visible.
Update March 31, 2011: Part 2 of this piece was posted at Neil Larsen Without His Leonard Cohen Cloak Of Invisibility, Part 2
Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post was shot and shared by Arlene Dick of Arlene’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook. Thanks go to Ken Chawkin, who recommended the 2008 London performance of Hallelujah as one in which Neil Larsen’s skills are spotlighted.
- Wikipedia [↩]
- Introduced in the September 2, 2009 Heck Of A Guy post, Videos From Recent Leonard Cohen Concerts – Bratislava, Budapest, & Vienne. [↩]
- There are exceptions. For example, if a videographer happens to be seated at an acute angle on the left side of the stage or in a balcony, one can see Larsen well enough throughout. I’ve tried tracking these down; unfortunately, YouTube has no category for “Leonard Cohen World Tour Concert, Neil Larsen visible.” [↩]
- One notes the musicians lack such protection from the elements. [↩]
- Arlene’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook [↩]