Neil Larsen – The Impeccable & Nearly Invisible Leonard Cohen World Tour Keyboardist, Part 1

Neil Larsen – Oakland 2010

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.

Some portion of this obscurity can legitimately be laid at the legs of his musical instruments of choice.

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.

larsen-hidden

Neil Larsen as usually seen in concert (screenshot – Hallelujah, Bratislava)

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.

larsen

Neil Larsen

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,
a composer,
a teacher,
a model,
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.

 

  1. Wikipedia []
  2. Introduced in the September 2, 2009 Heck Of A Guy post, Videos From Recent Leonard Cohen Concerts – Bratislava, Budapest, & Vienne. []
  3. 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.” []
  4. One notes the musicians lack such protection from the elements. []
  5. Arlene’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook []

One response to “Neil Larsen – The Impeccable & Nearly Invisible Leonard Cohen World Tour Keyboardist, Part 1

  1. I have waited thirty four years to see this heavenly site and feel the light of the Lord shine as the most talented and most devoted musician, I have ever had the pleasure to watch floats up off of his piano bench and magically tickles the ivory and stirs the feeling in my soul!! Playing for the Lord ~ a prayer of mine answered!! This beautiful keyboardist is a sight I have wanted to view for a long time and these magical songs for the Lord have blown me away!. I know that God works in His own time. I doubt him not. Praise God this beautiful musician is so awesome and magically playing for us and God! btw, please do not hate me : I knew this was your destiny. I have never loved anyone else,I am still holding that flame and if you are married and happy, I am happy for you. The past can not be changed, but the present, seeing you finally after looking for you all of these years with no real way to know where to look is my viewing pleasure. God bless this man and Mr. Cohen’s beautiful part in showing the most talented musician I have ever known to finally come out from the shadow’s.
    For all of the times I couldn’t be honest, I am saved now, and I am sorry that I missed my place,sorry for the confusion through the years and miles ~ and my love, for any and all past mistakes, and all I can say is sorry. Please forgive me, and bravo,you made it just like I knew you would. I gave up my dream,for my hearts desires, but I know I will see you there, in the sweet by and by with the Great “I Am”.
    THE PICTURE WITH SUNGLASSES!!OMGOODNESS,U are twins,Matthew and you!! I will never love anyone like I have loved you through all of the years that I have been too blind to see you standing there…really wish it had been me that was by your side, but you probably wouldn’t have forfilled the shoes that God had you to walk in if I had. Maybe you will forgive me and I will forgive me…someday. This is a beautiful sight and I am so impressed!!Mister Cohen, my hat is off to you. My soul belongs to my Lord and my heart belongs to someone your hat is off to.Thankyou for this sighting, you have answered my prayers. It has been a long tearful life, and this view is a sight for sore eyes. All of my respect to you Mister Larsen, I hope to see you again one day before I leave this world, and have peace and God’s forgivness. I have carried this torch for you inside for my whole life since I was twenty one. It is so nice to see you here, playing and floating up off of that piano “chair”. Respect, aplause, love, and God’s blessings to you and all that bring this beautiful sound to us to hear and you for us to see..Hats off my son’s twin!!Peace and love, Jesus is love, Love,the woman who is so sorry~ the fool with no eyes to see. The woman who let true love go and had it in her mind and heart every second of her life, the woman who could have been a contender and wishes she had never let love go. The songs touched me and my heart belonged to you from hello. I wish you happiness, but most of all I wish you God’s love and peace.Smiles and hallelujeh