Well the concert last night at the Acer Arena — the first of two nights the band is playing is Sydney — certainly turned out to be a bit of a dramatic journey, in many different ways. Ultimately, it ended up being an incredible night’s performance, but there were steps along the road where it seemed (to me) that Leonard’s “victory” over various obstacles was less than certain.
For the couple of days leading up to the concert, Sydney has put on some beautiful sunny weather as evidenced by Joey’s photos (and the few that I put up on the blog Sunday), but on the afternoon of the concert the storm clouds suddenly came rolling in. And, as I sat outside the venue eating some food about an hour before the concert thunder, lightning and torrential rain came down. It kind of set a strange atmosphere ahead of the show, although fortunately the rain subsided completely by the time that the majority of people were arriving at the doors to the Acer Arena. It did give Cathy (from Adelaide) an excuse to wear her new blue raincoat to the venue (not yet famous :-), at least not until just mentioned here).
[Rant alert (please skip ahead if you don’t want to read it): I have to admit that I’d never been to this arena before … and, having seen concerts in many similar venues (some quite recently), I would have to say the Acer Arena is a terrible place to see a concert. The arena is a large and boxy indoor venue with incredible vertiginous tiered seating, apparently leading up into the clouds. From the back the stage must look as though it’s in a different postcode. Fortunately, though, I had seats in (what should have been) a far better location — on the floor, not too many rows back from the stage. But even with such good fortune, my view of the performers was severely limited … mostly because the stage is relatively low. This means that even a medium-sized person sitting in the rows in front of you has a good chance of blocking your view. While this is a bit annoying, what I found much more irritating was the venue’s poor sound, mainly caused by reflections off the sides and back of the arena. In loud sections of the performance it was pretty easy to hear the original sound, followed a fraction of a second later by an echo off one of these sections, and maybe even a third reflection later. This isn’t really conducive to a good listening experience, and for a venue like this it’s pretty unforgivable IMHO. This isn’t BTW a criticism of the UHTC’s sound engineers … I’m sure they did the best they could with the venue they were given.]
Anyway, leaving aside the limitations of the venue, there was a far greater obstacle that Leonard was faced with during last night’s performance: the audience. You know how sometimes a crowd is so enthusiastic about an artist that there is great warmth and energy right from the first moment the performer appears on stage? Well, Brisbane was like that … but Sydney was almost the opposite. I don’t mean to suggest that the audience didn’t have great appreciation for Leonard — they clearly did — but their reactions to the songs in the first set was very muted (at least compared to audiences at other venues). The general reaction was more one of a respectful but restrained appreciation, rather than the slightly uninhibited display of admiration that has happened at other places. Going into the first break I had the definite sense that the band wasn’t getting all that much energy from the audience … and as a response the performance, while perfectly flawless in a technical way, was less imbued with the ‘personality’ that comes from a close connection between band and crowd.
Perhaps a performer of lesser statue than Leonard might have responded to such a situation by simply falling back on a tried-and-true set, kind of “phoning it in” with the assumption that it was just a “flat” audience. I guess I’ve seen people do that. But I think it’s a mark of an extraordinary performer that Our Man did the exact opposite … he tried to win over the crowd by giving of himself an extra measure. So, after delivering spirited renditions of the normal two opening tracks of the second set — Tower of Song (this time beginning with some additional banter) and Suzanne — he slipped in not one, but two solo songs on guitar. I am pretty sure that (as was the case in Brisbane), these weren’t planned on the set list — straight after Suzanne the band seemed about to kick straight into Sisters of Mercy and had to quickly make an about face back to the wings. The two songs we got were Avalanche (here played with a sensitivity and intensity that I don’t think I’ve seen at other performances) and A Singer Must Die. The latter was a complete surprise, being quite a rare fixture at recent concerts. I think these solo performances were the axis on which the audience’s response turned … from the middle of the second set, things began to rapidly pick up. Ironically, I don’t think it was Hallelujah that sealed the deal this time (it usually seems to be), but a sassier than usual I’m Your Man — which the Sydney audience just went off for. For the rest of the night after that, the crowd were quite literally in the palm of Leonard’s hand … I have seldom seen a louder, rowdier, warmer or buzzing audience. A final hard-fought victory for Field Commander Cohen.
The set List for the show was:
01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
02 The Future
03 Bird on the Wire
04 Everybody Knows
05 Who By Fire
06 The Darkness
07 Chelsea Hotel #2
08 Waiting For The Miracle
09 Ain’t No Cure For Love
11 Tower of Song
14 A Singer Must Die
15 Sisters of Mercy
16 The Gypsy’s Wife
17 The Partisan
19 I’m Your Man
20 A Thousand Kisses Deep [recitation]
21 Take This Waltz
22 So Long, Marianne
23 Famous Blue Raincoat
24 First We Take Manhattan
25 I Tried To Leave You
26 Closing Time
All up, I think this added up to a little short of 3 hours total performance time … so, by the standards of the NZ / Australian tour so far, one of the longer shows.
Some specific points I noticed:
- Band appearance: for the first set, Rafael wore a hat. Charlie, who normally has a slight curl in her hair was wearing it entirely straight
- Kangaroo Watch: sorry, B4real … I didn’t spot Matilda the kangaroo anywhere on stage 🙂
- Ain’t No Cure For Love: Leonard skipped a line, simply not singing “I even heard the angels declare it from above”
- Anthem: Leonard gave an extended spoken intro that cleverly referred back to banter common in earlier shows: “We started this tour 3 years ago. I was 73 .. just a kid with a crazy dream. It seems to keep on going. I’d like to thank you for inviting us back.” The toenails line is still there.
- Tower of Song: “Thank you so much for coming back; I know it’s a school night … so I appreciate it. I don’t know how long to play, so if people just want to leave I will not be offended.”
- Avalanche: as mentioned above, this was an amazing performance of this rare live gem. The kind of thing that induces goosebumps.
- A Singer Must Die: this was sung with several lyrical alterations from the recorded version, but I don’t think any of these were new to this performance (but rather alterations that LC made some time ago). In case it’s important, the first main change was “I am so afraid that I listen to you / your helmets and truncheons they do that to you / it’s your ways … ” The second main change was the substitution of the verse about the ten/twelve/whatever dollar grave, here sung as: “And save me a place in the twelve dollar grave / for those who took money for the pleasures they gave / with those always ready, with those who undress / so you can lie down with your head on somebody’s warm breast.”
- The Gypsy’s Wife: for one entire verse of this song (the one beginning “The silver knives are flashing”) Leonard didn’t sing but let Sharon and the Webb sisters take lead.
- Hallelujah: “I did not come to Sydney to fool you.”
- I’m Your Man: I don’t know if “sassy” is a word you would normally use to describe a Cohen performance, but if you *could* … this was a sassy rendition of this song. There were three minor lyrical additions: “if you want another kind of love, ok, I’ll wear a leather mask for you”; “if you want to take me for a ride, you know damn well you can”; “if you want to try an absolutely new kind of love, I’ll wear an old man’s mask for you.” The Sydney audience really enjoyed this song.
- A Thousand Kisses Deep: once again this was a remarkably heartfelt rendition of this poem
- First We Take Manhattan: At the beginning of this song, as the pulsing beat dominates, Dino usually whips the audience up .. getting them clapping. The same happened last night, but the sheer size of the audience turned this into a true “stadium rock” type moment that was quite a sight to behold.
- I Tried to Leave You: Rafael not only gave a kiss to the camera during his solo, but Cathy (from Adelaide) swears he also gave a little wink. I believe her, it’s the sort of think she’d notice :-). Rafael again set himself a very difficult mission when lobbing his brush up in the air — this time it fell forward of the drum kit, but he managed to grab into it just as it was about to sail past.
- Closing Time: Leonard gave a brief spoken intro: “Thank you for climbing up to those high places, I really appreciate it … I’d love to stay all night.” He then quickly checked his wrist watch before adding “I feel maybe we’ve stayed too long already. Now it’s Closing Time”. I’m guessing the latter referrs obliquely to working to a curfew. Leonard also gave a very touching extended version of the spoken outro to this song, giving the usual lines about how “they’re stacking up the chairs” but also offering very gracious and sincere thanks to the audience. After the usual line about how they’ve turned off the Budweiser sign, he warned us “the parking lot’s kind of dark so make sure you don’t get into someone else’s car. Then drive to somebody else’s home.”
Leonard and the UHTC return to the Acer Arena for a second night in Sydney tonight … but sadly I will need to skip this show (to return home to work for a few days before rejoining the tour in Melbourne on Friday). I hope for all concerned that tonight’s show soars to the same heights that last night’s concert (eventually) reached, but maybe does so more effortlessly 🙂