I have to confess that I always approach “second night” shows with a little trepidation. There’s this niggling thought in the back of my mind that maybe all the truly die-hard fans were quick enough to grab tickets to the first show before it sold out, and that the folks coming along on second night are the more casual followers of the artist. I also sometimes fear (particularly with a performer of Cohen’s vintage) that a performance without a break-day beforehand might be technically a little less polished due to fatigue.
About one minute into last night’s “second night” show in Melbourne, both of my concerns were totally dissipated … and after another five minutes I realised that, in some ways, this was going to be a superior night to the “first night”.
There were two main reasons that the show went so spectacularly well last night. The first was Leonard’s choice to offer up a set list that was at once significantly different from the first night’s set (so that folks who went to both would see a fair bit of different material), about 20 minutes longer than the preceding night’s show, and reintroduced several songs that have been absent from the set for the past several performances. The latter included two of the “new” song (yet to be included on a studio album); but also significantly included Boogie Street and If It Be Your Will which are fantastic vehicles for showcasing the talents of Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters.
The other big contributor to the success of the night was the audience. While I certainly wouldn’t say that the first night Melbourne audience was unenthusiastic in its response to the music, this crowd took it up at least one or two notches further. This was manifest in a bit more applause (both nights’ crowds gave very warm and loud applause) … but moreso in a whole lot more calling out, shouts of admiration, and a general feeling of being a bit more rowdy and out-of-control (well, as out-of-control as an audience with a median age somewhere in the baby boomers can get).
Strangely, however, although the overall mood of the crowd was extremely warm, standing ovations were a little more rare and there was a bit of a mini-exodus at the end of the first encore. I had fears for a moment of a repeat of the second night at Auckland … but fortunately the band was back on quickly enough to play Famous Blue Raincoat that most people figured out what was going on in time.
The very-much-revamped and extended setlist for the night was:
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 In My Secret Life
07 Who By Fire
08 Born In Chains
09 Chelsea Hotel #2
10 Waiting For The Miracle
12 Tower of Song
15 A Singer Must Die
16 Sisters of Mercy
17 The Gypsy’s Wife
18 Feels So Good
19 The Partisan
20 Boogie Street
22 I’m Your Man
23 A Thousand Kisses Deep [recitation]
24 Take This Waltz
25 So Long, Marianne
26 First We Take Manhattan
27 Famous Blue Raincoat
28 If It Be Your Will
29 Closing Time
Apart from the revamped set-list, there were a number of interesting things about the performance that made it unique:
- Flowers: After having received a nice bouquet of flowers on night 1 in Melbourne, Leonard must have been a little surprised for the same thing to happen on night 2 not once, but twice. The first flowers were put up on stage at the end of the first song, Dance Me To The End Of Love. These sat on the edge of the stage for a song or two before Leonard picked them up and put them on the drum platform behind him. I missed exactly when the second bouquet got put on the stage — it could have been during the intermission. Certainly they were there for most, if not all of, the second set. When Our Man came back on for his first encore song (So Long, Marianne), he picked these up and held them up to his chest in an embrace while singing a verse. I’m sure whoever provided the gift must have been most pleased 🙂
- Sharon Robinson: Pretty much all the Australian and New Zealand audiences have adored Sharon, but this audience seemed particularly enamoured with her, offering her up some huge applause and cheers at several points throughout the show. This was particularly evident in Boogie Street, which got a huge response.
- The Future: Roscoe again got to be “the white man dancing”, giving a little twirl.
- Bird On The Wire: At the beginning of this song, Leonard gave the audience a few spoken words, thanking the audience and saying that the band would be giving everything tonight. In the middle of this short monologue, a lady from the middle of the auditorium shouted out “We love you too!”. This song was plagued by a couple of minor sound-related problems. The first — pretty minor — was a little bit of feedback in a couple of place. The second was just odd: about a third of the way into the song, just after Dino had finished his sax solo, two people from the very back corner of the upper auditorium loudly shouted — the first said something like “we can’t hear at the back”, the second shouted “turn it up!”. Amazingly, the folks in the main mixing desk must have heard … because a few seconds later the master level got shunted up a bit.
- Everybody Knows: Leonard’s vocal delivery was particularly growly this night, I’m guessing deliberately (since on every other song he sounded normal). Absent from the previous performance, Cohen’s cheeky off-mike singing during the choruses made a lusty return. Maddeningly almost audible on this night 🙂
- Who By Fire: Javier’s solo changed again … and this one got a massive response from this worked-up audience.
- Born In Chains: This song has been absent from the last several performances. It returned here in a slightly modified form, with Leonard doing a lot less of the singing. The sections where he normally sang with the girls, the girls got to sing solo. Cohen only sang on the chorus bits (“Word of word …”). This kind of gave the song a different melodic feel. I have the impression this arrangement may not have been rehearsed too many times, since when Sharon and the Webb sisters began the verse “The soul unfolds”, they didn’t quite start in unison. At the very beginning of the song, a woman called out from the crowd “Your our man, Leonard!”
- Chelsea Hotel #2: This song was likewise very well received. At several moments during the verses (e.g., when singing about Janis having made a “rare exception”), there was solid bursts of spontaneous applause.
- Anthem: Dino was introduced as playing the “ebony clarinet.” Rafael must have had a falling out with “it”, since he is back to only clipping “it”‘s toenails.
- Tower of Song: The audience was quite responsive to Leonard during his performance of this song. He gave his usual spoken intro thanking people for coming back and saying how the keyboard was pretty sophisticated and the audience probably hadn’t seen anything like it before. A man shouted from the floor “It’s a …” (what sounded like a model number of a keyboard)”. So clearly, Melbournians *had* seen something like it before. Leonard’s keyboard solo got applause when it began, in the middle, and at the end (the last with a big ‘woah’ from somewhere behind where I was sitting) … which I think is a first. Afterwards he said “ah, you’re too kind friends”. As you’d imagine with this audience, the line about being born with a golden voice also got a huge response.
- Suzanne: Leonard gave a much more elaborate instrumental intro to this song. Straight after that, however, he made a bit of a false start with the first line of lyrics and had to twiddle a few bars of guitar before restarting. But Our Man has such grace and poise in such situations, that even such moments look like moments of grace. Surely the mark of a sublime performer. There were a few ecstatic screams from the audience.
- Feels So Good: This was another song that received it’s first Australian performance here. Neil’s organ intro seemed longer than I remember it: sort of sets the mood for the song quite well. There was a minor lyric change (in a song that has gone through constant lyrical change since its first performance): after the line about “the river to the sea” the next couple of lines became “It’s all a blur, whatever it was .. meant to be” leading into the lines about “you were the world.”
- The Partisan: The fever pitch of the audience rowdiness was probably at the end of this song, where during the applause there were many *many* people shouting out ‘woohs’ and the like. Then, from the middle of the seated area, one or two people literally started wailing — there’s really no other word for it. I think it even threw Leonard, since he paused for a moment and said “thank your for your howling.” Then someone loudly yelled “Thank *you*, Leonard!”
- Hallelujah: “I didn’t come to Melbourne to fool you”
- A Thousand Kisses Deep: With the audience being a bit rowdier than usual, it wasn’t too surprising that there was fairly generous applause and laughter at a few key points in the recitation. The lines “been working out, but it’s too late, it’s been too late for years” here got quite a few laughs. At other moments, the audience was in awed silence … so an interesting contrast.
- If It Be Your Will: This was simply an amazing performance of this song by the Webb Sisters, with particularly beautiful vocal harmonies. Perhaps the best version I’ve heard.
- So Long Marianne: Leonard totally nailed this song … the verse sung with the bouquet of flowers was just the icing on the cake.
- Closing Time: Leonard started by saying “I’ve gotta inform you now that the boss has told me it’s Closing Time.” His spoken outro got a bit of a revamp, with the lines about “giving the night a ticket” going first, to be followed by the lines about “stacking up the chairs.” He finished up by saying “They’re turning off the Budweiser sign; the car park’s kinda dark, so be careful it’s your car you get into when you drive away. Remember not to catch a summer cold.” When he walked off stage the crowd was literally buzzing.
The UHTC moves now to perform a show in Hobart on Monday. I have the good fortune to have tickets to this show, which should be quite interesting as Hobart (and the venue) is by far the smallest city the tour will be visiting. Here’s hoping for an enthused small town crowd! Leonard also does play another show in the Melbourne area — the Hanging Rock show (an outdoor show held in a national park about an hour’s drive north of Melbourne) a little later in the tour.