The Best Of The 2008-2010 Leonard Cohen World Tour
Leonard Cohen last performed in concert in December 2010, and, according to the countdown clock on the sidebar, it’s three weeks until the 2012 Leonard Cohen Old Ideas World Tour begins – the perfect time to savor more of the best performances of the 2008-2010 Leonard Cohen World Tour.
Leonard Cohen Goes Messianic In Coachella Desert
In Leonard Cohen’s February 20, 2009 interview with the LA Times,1 he voiced concern about the Coachella Festival gig,
“We’d played festivals in the past, and I’m not crazy about the setup. You’re on a roster with a whole lot of other people. You don’t have the evening. I like to be in a room with people for three hours, have a beginning, middle and an end. We can’t do our whole set, it’s not our rhythm. But we have heard it’s a special hospitality there. We’ll play our best and look forward to it.”
In addition to the environment and the staging logistics listed by Cohen other potential hazards also loomed ominously.
Cohen would be trapped, for example, between the personification of pop music nostalgia, Paul McCartney, the headliner of the first night who would would be playing the evening’s grand finale, and the multitude of hip and trendy bands who were invited precisely because they were currently surfing on the waves of popularity.
Most significantly, the audience would be drawn from a different population. At the concerts, Leonard Cohen played to a pre-selected group – those who who wanted to see him and who were willing to pay at $75-300 (or more) for that specific privilege. We are, for the most part, an upstanding, impeccably polite, reliably respectable sort. At Coachella, the audience would be drawn from the festival visitors that day, most of them too young to have any immediate experience with Cohen’s music.2 And, there was no assurance that those who came to hear the Ting Tings or Girl Talk would necessarily be enchanted by a 74 year old dude in a fedora, even if his song was the soundtrack to the sex scene in The Watchmen. Moreover, the crowd was likely to be noisy, munching on snacks, Twittering away on various electronic devices, and, in general, being blatantly young.
So, I’ve gathered a few reviews to determine how Leonard Cohen fared against the competition at Coachella. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but I must confess that it’s becoming damn difficult to worry about Leonard Cohen performing anywhere for any audience.
Reading from the Epistle of Spinner Re The Coachellans,
Seeing Leonard Cohen in the desert one wonders if they’re just seeing a messianic mirage. In fact, his set on Friday night at Coachella was not unlike going to church — a notion driven home by the fact that the notoriously chatty crowd remained absolutely silent during Cohen’s one-hour set except for ‘Hallelujah,’ during which everyone threw their arms in the air and sang in unison. A cathartic moment during a set full of them as Cohen sang one essential hit after another, including ‘Bird on a Wire,’ ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘Everybody Knows.’
The folks at Gawker have published Coachella: An Illustrated Nightmare, which comprises a series of, as one would suspect, nightmarish photos of the goings-on at Coachella 2009 replete with snark-laden captions.
Well, that nightmarish-snarky thing is true except in the case of the last photo in the sequence:
And then an awesome, natty old man showed up to play that song from the Watchmen sex scene. ["Leonard Cohen by vonlohmann, on Flickr"]
Searching for photos of Leonard Cohen that also identified the Coachella setting (most photos of Cohen in the desert could have been taken in London, New York, or Fredericton) I came across two excellent shots at Sharee Rivera‘s Live Journal entry, Coachella Was Da Bomb, documenting her visit to the first day of Coachella 2009.
Here is Leonard Cohen! He is super old. I love him. He was so incredible.
And, from the Gospel according to The L.A. Times, we find the account of Leonard Cohen’s Spiritual Oasis at Coachella:
He delivered the selections pretty much identically to the L.A. Show, except for the unexpected locale reference humorously dropped into “Hallelujah”; “I didn’t come to Coachella to fool ya,” a moment that’s about the closest he gets to spontaneity. However meticulously rehearsed it might have been, “Hallelujah” became an exceptionally powerful communal experience, most of the onlookers joining in on the chorus like a shared prayer. A religious experience in the desert–who’d have thought?
From Blessed MotherJones.com Coachella Wrapup as revealed to Party Ben:
As the sun goes behind the mountains, a huge crowd has assembled at the side stage to see 74-year-old singer Leonard Cohen. I know he’s a legend and has unquestionable hipster cachet, but this is crazy:—scrappy-looking kids with punk haircuts are shoving past me to get better spots. Cohen emerges onto the stage with his nicely-dressed band, himself in a black suit, white shirt, cheeky bolo tie, and a little fedora, which he doffs for the crowd. The band starts up, quietly, but the other stages have gone silent out of respect, and the sound is clear as a bell. Cohen drops on one knee to sing the opening bars of “Dance Me to the End of Love.” His voice starts off a little wobbly, and at one point he seems to fumble a line, but in the chorus he dives for the low notes with gusto, his rich basso making the girls scream. As he continues, his confidence only seems to grow, and he picks rhythms in the repeating choruses that intertwine with the backup singers, surprising counterpoints to the straightforward melody already established. He’s on his knees again, and back up again, and I realize I can’t do that now, and I’m half this guy’s age. “I need to see you naked,” he sings, and the crowd screams louder.
In closing, the blessings of the Leonard Cohen World Tour Benediction be upon you:
I don’t know when we’ll meet again. Until then, take care of yourselves. May you fall on the side of luck, may you be surrounded by friends and family, and if none of these is yours, may the blessings find you in your solitude. Thank you so much friends, goodnight, take care.
Cohen’s Coachella Performance From Another Perspective
I don’t follow PunkNews.org as well as perhaps I should. Aubin posted an explanatory introduction to the entry on April 30, 2009:
Dispatches: Franz Nicolay: Episode 1
Today, we’ve got a brand new set of tour diaries coming from Franz Nicolay, multi-instrumentalist and member of The Hold Steady and World/Inferno Friendship Society.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I attest to having long been a fan of Franz Nicolay, both in his solo gypsy-punk rock mode and as part of one of my favorite bands, The Hold Steady. While I may, consequently, carry a bias, there are batches of laudatory reviews of Nicolay and The Hold Steady attesting to their popularity and the quality of their music.
In the pertinent section of the post, Nicolay is describing his experiences at Coachella, where The Hold Steady have played earlier on the same day that Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, and Paul McCartney will perform.
Nicolay On Morrissey And McCartney At Coachella
In the tour diary itself Nicolay proves himself no sycophant, opening his report of Morrissey’s performance, for example, with this unambiguous line:
So it pains me to report … that Morrissey, who played next on the main stage, was, and I wish I could come up with a more eloquent way to put this, a pissy little bitch.
And about the headliner, Paul McCartney, Nicolay’s full report is contained in two brief paragraphs:
On my way to the stage for Cohen’s set, I was stopped by a security guard, as a motorcade of black Escalades pulled up to a gate. While we waited on the sidewalk, out stepped Paul McCartney, in a baggy grey suit. And red sneakers.
Which I suppose is the kind of thing the richest entertainer in the world can get away with, though two and a half hours of McCartney was an adult dose. For a guy worth half a billion dollars it was an admirably simple stage show (especially the ukulele take on “Something”). Except for the flash-pots and fireworks deployed for “Live And Let Die”: a subtle display of the kind of fuck-you money that brings a full pyro setup for one song.
Franz Nicolay On Leonard Cohen At Coachella -
An Object Lesson In Performance Manners
On that topic – the ridiculous to the sublime, the snowy to the sun-baked, or something to that effect – we played the giant Coachella festival in a desert polo grounds in southern California three days later, and I saw an object lesson in performance manners. Perhaps you’ve heard that Leonard Cohen recently suffered a severe financial setback. He spent six years studying in a Zen monastery, during which time he left his affairs in the hands of a personal manager – who took him for five million dollars, essentially his life savings. So, at 74, he’s back on the road, and a more gracious performance I’ve never seen. All ten or twenty thousand people waiting for him on a second stage, waited in a hushed silence, like a church service. And indeed, one of the notable details was that this was the quietest PA sound I’ve ever seen at a festival show, so the religious atmosphere held, up to a really chilling mass singalong to “Hallelujah”. One detail that really pleased me was that, every time a member of the band took a solo, he removed his fedora and held it over his heart for the duration, as a gesture of respect.
Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Coachella – April 17, 2009
Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan (Coachella 2009)
Uploaded by backpackdave2009B
Bonus – The Final Score – Rating Cohen At Coachella
Best Set: Leonard Cohen
How fitting that Leonard Cohen’s performance of “Hallelujah,” his most famous song, would still come as a glorious shock. After all, that’s what the melody does: It seeps into your heart and lies dormant — then erupts as pure emotion. The set was tenderly elegant (brocade rugs and red velvet chairs!), but nothing could distract from Cohen, 75 and beaming, tipping his fedora to a misty-eyed crowd of all ages and roaming the stage like Sinatra, depthless baritone still in terrific form. Artists one-third his age couldn’t have culled the ferocity of “First We Take Manhattan” or the heartrending, unadorned lament of “Everybody Knows.” And still, when the keys kicked up the first strains of “Hallelujah,” those ascending notes led a seismic reaction — offstage, as an ecstatic audience sang every word back in hymnal, and onstage, where Cohen removed his hat and peered out into audience with reverent, brimming tears. — Stacey Anderson
Top Ten Performances of Coachella 2009:
1. Leonard Cohen
2. My Bloody Valentine
3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
4. TV on the Radio
5. Paul McCartney
6. The Hold Steady
7. Bob Mould Band
8. The Cure
9. Henry Rollins
10. Fucked Up (w/ No Age)
There’s no question of Leonard Cohen’s Friday evening set being the finest of the weekend—his otherworldly baritone sheathed in a ravaged rasp led the massive Outdoor Theatre crowd into the weekend’s most cathartic, devastatingly human moments of artistry and poetics, from the perfect opening lines of “Bird on a Wire” to his closing audience singalong of the immortal “Hallelujah,” performed just as a blood-red sun sank deep into a jagged, palm tree’d horizon and left the sky black. It was nothing short of magic.
3. Leonard Cohen3
At the ripe age of 74, Leonard Cohen is still able to prove to the masses that he has no intentions of taking off his hat just yet. With the support of a classily dressed band, Cohen led the crowd through a smoky and nostalgic set. The surreal nature of hearing the Poet of Rock and Roll himself sing “Hallelujah” in a venue that few had expected he ever would perform was truly powerful. His wit and charm have only increased as the years have gone by, keeping his work relevant and groundbreaking to this very day.
My personal high, however, I suspect is an encounter held in equally high regard by thousands more. The incredible version of “Hallelujah,” with which Leonard Cohen stunned the already rapt crowd before him, is a Coachella moment like no other. Along with McCartney’s performance in total, it will undoubtedly turn up in best-ever talk for years to come.
It is not often (or ever, really) during a concert review that I get teary and comment out loud, “Oh my god!” but the coverage of Best Set: Leonard Cohen tore at my insides. Coachella, that evergrowing-in-popularity music and arts festival in Indio, Ca, was this weekend. Spin has a nice recap of the bests and worsts from all three days, including Best Personality (Morrissey), Best Encore (Paul McCartney) and Worst Stage Banter (We Are Scientists), among many others. I’m not sure if my emotional reaction to Best Set was to the report of a crowd singing back to Cohen in delight, Cohen’s tearful response to the singing, the combination of the two or if I just have a special place in my heart for euphoric old men. Whatever the case, the live performance and crowd interaction seemed magical.
Leonard Cohen On Performing At Coachella
In that Los Angeles Times article mentioned at the first of this post, Cohen concluded his comments about Coachella by segueing, as reported by the interviewer, into an
… extended explanation of where the stage magic lies for him, the sweet spot between the practiced and the unexpected. Then, unhappy with the long route to an answer, the poet shrugged and took a four-word path: “There is a flicker.”
Credit Due Department: Photo atop this entry found at Coachella Forum., where it was posted by Buddy. The other photos are credited in the text._____________________
- See LA Times Next At Leonard Cohen Interview-a-thon [↩]
- Before the current World Tour, Cohen’s most recent concert tour was in 1993. In 1993 most of the Coachella crowd would have been in kindergarten or grade school. [↩]
- To keep the rankings in context, consider this description of the #1 entry on this “Best of Coachella” list: 1. My Bloody Valentine: My Bloody Valentine was definitely the most sonically punishing set of the weekend – hands down my favorite performance. Their captivating and nosily melodic (too much of an oxymoron to let go) presence could be (physically) felt from the farthest ends of the festival grounds. Upon arriving to the festival Sunday morning, each fan was given a pair of ear plugs, a subtle but necessary warning for what was to come. Frontman Kevin Shield led his pedal-obsessive four-piece through a set of fan favorites and b-side gems. What separated My Bloody Valentine from every other band this weekend came from their EP title track “You Made Me Realise.” The relatively short song was painfully expanded by a 15 minute noise attack. The mass hysteria and confusion that hit the crowd during this 15 minutes of chaos is nearly inexplicable. One person I spoke to described the experience as “swimming in a pool of Jello, if the Jello was made of white noise.” Here’s my best attempt at explaining the experience: it felt as if I was standing inside of the turbine of a space shuttle taking off into space. The physical push of the sound was enough to make some fans faint, others scream senselessly, but most importantly, it brought a group of 60,000 people together with a unique experience that few will ever truly understand. And to think that they went back into the song afterwards, untuned strings and all – that takes a lot of guts in my book. I can only wonder what Kevin Shields’ parents thought of his band practices when he was growing up. [↩]