[apologies for the delay in getting this report published — it’s down to a combination of two factors. The first is travel; the second is that clearly I haven’t been heeding Leonard’s sage advice … I have come down with a summer cold.]
Tour-closing concerts are always an interesting beast. When you’ve been playing a series of concerts which have, as in the case of Leonard’s, been reviewed with such rapturous praise, how do you wrap it up in a way that is nicely satisfying for both the musicians (for which it’s a type of closure) and for the audience? It would seem that Leonard’s answer to this conundrum was extremely simple — just offer up a performance that encapsulates all the best of the tour and then add in some new and interesting twists as flavour enhancers for those of us who have been following his exploits closely throughout the tour.
Fans at nib stadium in Perth on Wednesday night were treated to a performance which combined the very best standards of the band’s musicianship with rare playfulness on Leonard’s part. It truly was a magnificent night. During the first set the performance was dominated by Our Man’s relaxed attitude and uncommon chattiness. The second set was a little more conventional, but was lifted by a crowd who was clear and demonstrative in their appreciation of Leonard and his music. Also, there was a (brand new?) variant offered of the poem recitation A Thousand Kisses Deep to keep us train-spotter types more than satisfied. By the time we were into the encores it was obvious that this was going to be a particularly memorable performance witnessed by a particularly engaged audience. There was a kind of magical and very “fun” atmosphere that pervaded the whole affair … like the last day of school, where pretty much everybody had adopted an “anything goes” attitude. The whole thing wrapped up with several bouts of thunderous applause for the encores and Leonard coming back onstage for a third encore (which has been rare for the Australian and New Zealand shows, mainly due to curfews). The show wrapped up pretty much spot on the curfew time (10:30pm) leaving an incredibly energized crowd filing out of the stadium somewhat awestruck.
Sharon — Still Missing
Once again, Sharon Robinson was absent from the performance. No explanation was given … and all we currently have to go is a stray remark in a Perth newspaper which suggests she may be in hospital (but which could be just unsubstantiated newspaper speculation).
I’m sure all readers will join me in sending their best wishes to Sharon for a speedy recovery from … well, whatever it is that’s keeping her from performing. Although the UHTC still put on a blazing show without her, she is most definitely missed.
The vast majority of the concerts on the Down Under tour have been indoor ‘arena-style’ entertainment centres slash sporting stadiums. Hanging Rock was a one-off, where we were treated to a picnic-in-a-field kind of venue. Given this, the nib stadium — an open-air soccer (aka football, depending on where you are) venue — seemed like a bit of an odd place to see a Leonard Cohen concert. I felt a little bit like I should be there watching Bon Jovi, waving a cigarette lighter in the air (or the modern equivalent, a mobile phone :-)). But all-in-all it was an ok venue. The sound was pretty good where I was sitting. Apparently (according to womanfromaroom anyway) there was a bit of an imbalance between the number of male toilets (lots) and female toilets (not many) which I guess stems from the stadium’s status as primarily a football venue. Reportedly this problem was solved by the ladies staging a bit of a revolution at the interval and taking ownership of some of the male facilites.
One thing that was very obvious from the very beginning was the absence of the normal stage dressing — there were none of the flowing white curtains with diaphonous paintings by Leonard, instead the nib Stadium stage was adorned with plain black sheets both at the back and both sides. Lighting was also a lot more rudimentary than usual, although used to fairly good effect during the performance. The main spotlights were thrown from a pair of cherry-picker-type extensible scaffolds near the tent housing the mixing desk.
Being an outdoor venue, as the sun went down (pretty much the same time as Leonard took to the stage), it did get a little cooler. But nothing like the freezing conditions which played havoc with the band and audience at Hanging Rock. I was fairly comfortable with just a long-sleeved shirt and fleecy hoodie (not zipped), so it can’t have been all that chilly. Regardless, the Webb Sisters seemed to have plans in place to keep themselves warm — right from the beginning, they had two fan heaters (one each), and after the interval they returned with scarves. Hattie also wore gloves later in the night. Overall, however, nobody’s voice seemed to suffer … and there certainly didn’t seem to be a sense that the performers were uncomfortable.
As mentioned previously, the Perth audience were both vocal in their cheering and generous in their applause. The general vibe was definitely buzzing, although maybe a little less so than at the Hanging Rock show (where the audience had already been at the show, in some cases drinking, for some hours before Leonard came on). Western Australians have a bit of a reputation for embracing their inner larrikin … and this audience was certainly more than willing to shout out their admiration loudly and without reservation. One lovely example, which I think is a beautifully captured moment of Aussie-ness, was when a woman seated behind me loudly shouted out during Leonard’s spoken intro to Anthem, saying “Leonard, you spunk!” For those unfamiliar with the Australian idiom … a “spunk” is an attractive person, but it’s more the sort of statement of affection you’d expect to hear teenagers saying to each other in the schoolyard, which made it quite funny to hear in this context.
Prior to leaving Adelaide for the Perth show, I had been in touch with two different groups of folks from the Leonard Cohen Forum who were attending the concert. Ironically, three of the four people weren’t actually *from* Perth, but were visitors holidaying there. On the night, I first met up with Mabeanie1 and partner, who had incredible seats right in the front row. I spent most of the break between Clare Bowditch’s set and Leonard’s first set chatting with them — it was fantastic to hear some first hand accounts of how fan meetups in Europe and elsewhere work, and the magnitude to which these have grown.
At the interval I went in search of the other group of folks I knew were there: womanfromaroom and Greg Ross. After tracking them down and presenting them with their LC Forum lanyards, I got to speak briefly with them. womanfromaroom is currently visiting from Germany — it was again great to hear how the shows in Europe have been going recently, and in particular to hear how the Perth show differed from, or was similar to those shows. I was actually fortunate enough to spend quite a bit more time with these guys the next morning swapping war stories about Leonard, the Universe and Everything. Very nice!
A big thank you to both groups of people … as always they were wonderful, warm and accommodating people. Leonard’s fans are some of the best people out there, and the rare opportunity to meet more of them during this tour has been one of the aspects of the long trip that I’ve enjoyed the most. Thanks, guys!
The Set List
The nib Stadium is located in an area of Perth that is surrounded mostly by (what seemed to me) light industrial areas, but there are also residential suburbs not far away. So it was no surprise that there was a curfew — the promotional material said the show would wrap up at 10:30 (early, but it also started much earlier than all the other Aus and NZ shows, with Leonard on-stage just after 7). Leonard seemed to have decided at some point during the second encore (or maybe earlier) that he’d leave some time for a third encore — Closing time was sped up slightly to wrap up at around 10:20, leaving ten minutes for I Tried To Leave You. Third encores have been a rarity for the Aus and NZ shows, so this one was welcomed!
The songs played on the night were:
01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
02 The Future
03 Ain’t No Cure For Love
04 Bird On The Wire
05 Everybody Knows
06 Who By Fire
07 The Darkness
08 Chelsea Hotel #2
09 Waiting For The Miracle
11 Tower of Song
14 Sisters Of Mercy
15 The Gypsy’s Wife
16 The Partisan
18 I’m Your Man
19 A Thousand Kisses Deep [recitation, variant stanzas]
20 Take This Waltz
21 So Long, Marianne
22 First We Take Manhattan
23 Famous Blue Raincoat
24 If It Be Your Will
25 Closing Time
26 I Tried To Leave You
There were a number of specific things that caught my attention on the night:
- Wandering Bob: for some reason, Bob Metzger seemed to spend quite a bit of pre-performance time and between sets wandering around on stage, fiddling with cables and the like in his little area (just in front of the pedal steel guitar). The funny thing was … in his single-mindedness he almost wandered on to stage while Clare Bowditch was still playing her last song. It was only a gentle touch on the arm by Pikelet (Clare’s sidekick, not on stage for the last Bowditch song which was performed solo) which averted a bit of an embarassing, not to mention confusing, incident.
- Clare’s Support Set: embracing the “do anything” attitude that pervaded the evening, Clare — who really hadn’t changed her set much, even when she had her band at Hanging Rock — added a couple of nice solo songs, one on guitar and one on keyboard. The latter was a new song, only written a short time ago and not yet recorded.
- Clare and the Pineapple Juice: before playing one of her songs, Clare alluded to an incident where just before coming on stage at one of the shows, she had spilled a pitcher of pineapple juice in Leonard’s crotch. She related how he was quite unoffended, casually brushing aside the fact that she’d messed up his Armani suit.
- Longer Interval: the break between Leonard’s first and second set — usually very precisely twenty minutes — was longer in Perth. I was wondering why … right up until I saw Joey’s photo of the bottle of wine that was being shared backstage during the interval. I guess if someone opened a bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage for me, I wouldn’t hurry either.
- A Fasces of Flowers: during the standing ovations, the video cameras usually swivel around to film the crowd, putting the pictures up on the big screen. If there’s something of particular note, they tend to zoom in on it (as with the laminated heart sign at Hanging Rock). At the Perth show it seemed to be an odd-looking bundle of flowers held aloft a bit like a Roman fasces. I think it was topped with a sunflower.
- Roscoe’s Gizmos: something else that’s grabbed my attention at a couple of the recent shows is the small collection of little gadgets that Roscoe has sitting on top of the equipment rack behind him. In particular, there’s a blue gizmo with an LCD screen and some buttons. After painstaking searching on google images, I can now confirm this is a bass tuner, specifically a Peterson VS II.
As always there were some subtle (and on this occasion, also not-so-subtle) nuances to the performance in Perth which made it quite unique:
- Bird On The Wire: Before playing this song, Leonard said “Well ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for your warm welcome here this evening. It’s a great pleasure to play for you. So glad that you invited us back to Australia and y’know it’s our last night here.” He then went on to give the normal statement about how the band would be giving everything tonight. Minor lyrical elaboration: “People, don’t cry, don’t cry you were always the one”
- Everybody Knows: there’s been a little bit of discussion on the forum about the gesture Leonard makes when he sings the line “when you’ve done a little line or two.” At this show we didn’t get the little sniff (which I heard at Hanging Rock) but he still pointed his thumb at his nose.
- Who By Fire: A different Javier intro again, seemingly more ‘modern’ than some of the other versions. Almost a combination of classical Spanish guitar, with maybe a touch of jazz mixed in there somewhere. As always it was extremely well received.
- The Darkness: Leonard gave a spoken intro to this song: “I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how I caught it. There’s a lot of it going around, that’s all I can say. I was minding my own business, and I caught it.” This was a great rendition of this song with Leonard’s guitar playing on this version the best I’ve heard it, with just the right amount of twanginess and buzz. The Webb Sisters seemed to be trying to sing some lower harmonies for this song, to make up for the fact that Sharon was absent.
- Anthem: The spoken intro to this song was: “Thanks a lot friends, you’ve been so very hospitable to us tonight. It’s really an honour to play for you. We are indeed privilegd to be able to gather in places like this for occasions like this when so much of this dark world is plunged in chaos and suffering. So, those of us who can …” The Saga of Rafael and “It”, which has been slowly unfolding in Leonard’s introduction to the drummer, came to a bit of a suprise conclusion (see below). When Leonard introduced Neil, he described him as “grammy nominated”. At the conclusion of the song, Leonard said “Thanks so much friends. Thank you for your kind attention. I don’t like to keep you up late on a school night, but we’ll be back in a few minutes with the second part of this concert. I hope you’ll be there. Thanks a lot friends.”
- Rafael & It: Here’s how Leonard introduced Rafael: “A sculptor of silence. Laying it down, bringing it home, putting it to bed, clipping its toenails, smothering it with a pillow, going to jail, joining the Aryan Brotherhood, later converting to Judaism, later losing his faith, spending the remainder of his days working in a half-way house for destroyed vegetarians … the Regent of Restraint, the Prince of Passionate Precision, Rafael Bernado Gayol!”
- Tower of Song: “Thanks so much friends, thanks for staying.” The audience reaction to Leonard’s keyboard solo was unusually raucous, with whoops and claps sporadically through the second half of the solo. At the end he said “Now I know why you are famous for your kindness.”
- Suzanne: Leonard played another nice elaboration on his solo guitar intro to this song. All in all, a great version of this classic.
- Sisters of Mercy: At some point during the first few bars of this song, a guy in audience loudly yelled out “yeeeaaah!”
- The Partisan: There was something different with the sound of Rafael’s hi-hat line on this song. I don’t know whether it was a different line that he was playing, or there was something different in the mix or microphones.
- Hallelujah: namecheck “I didn’t come to Perth to fool you.”
- I’m Your Man: Again, there were lots of people talking along with the line “I’m Your Man”. We got the lines “You know damn well you can” and “if you want to work the street, ok, I’ll disappear for you”. The remark about wearing “an old man’s mask for you” got an unusually large laugh this time around. There were a few folk up and dancing at the front during this song, but security very quickly shut them down.
- A Thousand Kisses Deep: This was notably different to any other performance of this poem that I’ve heard. Two stanzas were substituted at the end (see below). The comment about the perfect porn aristocrat and Leonard being “still into that” got an uncommonly large cheer, with a woman from the crowd loudly shouting out “eyyyyy”.
- Variant stanzas: The Perth version of the poem was as per the version normally performed, right up until the second iteration of the lines about “his second-hand physique”, after that the rest of the recital was:
Don’t matter if the road is long
Don’t matter if it’s steep
Don’t matter if the moon goes out
And the Darkness is complete
Don’t matter if we lose out way
It’s written that we’ll meet
At least that’s what I heard you say
A Thousand Kisses Deep
- Take This Waltz: In place of the line “I want you, I want you, I want you”, we got something different … and not the “Te Caro” substitution that has been in most of the recent performances. Instead, Leonard sang “I love you, I love you, I love you”. Generally, Leonard’s vocal delivery here was more flowing than usual. When, at the end of the song, he gave credit to the back-stage crew, he added in a thank you to the “custodians of our hats: Maz(?) and Lee Lomar(?), who’s leaving today.” Just before leaving the stage he said “I want to thank you all for the great hospitality you’ve show us this evening. We deeply appreciate it. Thanks so much.”
- First We Take Manhattan: Rafael added in some double kicks in numerous places throughout this version, which added some extra energy to the song.
- Famous Blue Raincoat: This was a very relaxed performance by Leonard. “The enemy is sleeping and the woman is free.”
- If It Be Your Will: The Webb Sisters offered up some fantastic harmonies in this version — it was extremely well received by the audience.
- Closing Time: This was performed with great gusto, a little faster than usual (I think with an eye towards leaving 10 minutes for a third encore). Leonard’s monologue at the end included the normal lines about stacking up the chairs, the lines about giving the night a ticket, and then “Been so great being here, friends and to share the stage with the astonishing Clare Bowditch and Evelyn Morris. I want to thank you all for the warm greeting and the warm hospitality that you’ve shown us tonight. Take it easy friends. I don’t know when we’ll meet again. Until that time, God bless you, every one. Thanks for everything friends. Good night!”
- I Tried To Leave You: For their solo, the Webb Sisters provided a different harmonic piece than they have performed at the rest of the shows on this tour.
- Final outro: “Ah you’ve been so good friends. Thank you so much. We hope to see you soon. What a lovely way to leave Australia with this incredible display of affection. Thank you so much, friends!”
That’s It For Australia & NZ
Perth marked the end of Leonard’s Down Under tour … but not the end of the “World Tour 2010”. There are still a handful of shows coming up in Canada and the US. But someone else will need to chronicle those … I’ve got to start paying off all my travels around Australia and New Zealand!
All the best to Leonard and the band for the remainder of the tour!