Concert Report: Hobart (15 November 2010)

Last night’s show in Hobart — which I believe is Leonard’s first visit to this small and very picturesque part of Australia — can only be described as another overwhelming success. Leonard and the band were on fire and the electricity in the audience was palpable. All in all yet another amazing show.

My evening, however, didn’t entirely go as smoothly as I would have liked. The venue for the show — the Derwent Entertainment Centre — is about 7km North of the centre of Hobart, where I was staying. I left what I thought was a reasonable amount of time (45 mins) to drive there, park and find my seat. Approaching the venue along the main road out of town, I started seeing masses of backed up traffic when I was still about 2.5Km away. The line-up of cars waiting to turn into the venue, was an impressive if somewhat daunting sight. After slowly cruising past hundreds of cars, and watching my time dwindling down to mere minutes, I merged back into this big snake of traffic close to the venue and eventually got into the car park area. Just as I was doing so, there was someone walking back to the road with a “car park full” sign … so I count myself lucky! As it was we got directed into what can only be described as a muddy field, which was the “overflow carpark”. It wasn’t all that far from the venue, but by this time the show was only five minutes away! In somewhat of a panic I quickly walked to the Entertainment Centre, narrowly making it to my seat just as the lights went down for Clare Bowditch’s set. So … I made it, but I’d have to say that I was in a kind of mixed state of mind (panic, relief, confusion) by that point. I’m still a little mystified why the car parking was so disorganised — the venue clearly knew 5000 people were coming, but there seemed to be very little effort made to manage the incredible mass (at least by Hobart standards) of vehicles.

Leaving aside my experiences with car parking, the venue seemed pretty good. It’s by far the smallest hall that Leonard will be playing on his NZ and Aus tour … but packed to capacity by eager fans. The auditorium had an interesting layout (at least compared to the larger venues that LC has played recently): the stage was about the same size as normal, but the floor area directly in front of it was only about an equivalent size. Behind that and to the side was tiered seating that went up fairly steeply, but didn’t go back too far. Even the furthest seats would have seemed pretty close to the band, and the floor area (because it was so much smaller than usual) looked like people were pretty much sitting on the performers’ laps … well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean. Also the hall was an odd shape … not very far from the stage to the back, but quite wide from left to right. The two large video screens were set up to the side of the stage, but were quite close to it … which made for some interesting times for the crew manning the video cameras: when lining up shots of the performers, it was often the case that the screens themselves would be in shot. This lead to some strange shots, where you could see two or three Leonard Cohen’s on the screen at once … or in one instance, a shot of Clare Bowditch’s musical sidekick Pikelet, descended into an infinite hall of mirrors effect! Freaky.

The Hobart crowd were enthusiastic almost to the point of being raucous … there was so much energy in the room. The atmosphere was very similar to being in the audience of the second Melbourne show (Saturday 13th), but in that case there something like 13000 people generating a huge buzz — here it was 5000 making just as much noise, applause and general warmth for the band. It was obvious that Leonard and the band felt this very strongly. Although it is common for Our Man to thank an audience for its warmth and generosity, here the praises were taken to a new level and the resounding final comment “Thanks for tonight, we won’t forget it for a long time” had a special kind of sincerity. Having made these comments about the audience, however, I should stress that this was the sort of average or aggregate vibe coming from the audience … there were definitely some special cases (see some of my specific points below) where the response was much more and much less.

Others have commented about Leonard’s voice having a husky timbre to it for Set 2, and coming out of the venue my gf Cathy (from Adelaide) said something similar to me. Looking back over my written notes, I can see that I’ve written down words like “husky”, “growly” and similar against several songs, so I guess it seemed that way to me too. I’m pretty sure his voice during Set 1 was pretty much as it has been for other Australian shows, but from Suzanne onwards it seems to have picked up a different quality, maybe moving a notch or two up the Tom Waits scale. Interestingly I think this actually improved the performance of some of the songs in this set, although some did take on a different colour to what we are used to hearing. See my comments below for Avalanche for an example of a song that seemed to particularly work when played in this mode. Either way, the growliness seemed to evaporate from Leonard’s voice for Take This Waltz and So Long Marianne, but was definitely back for First We Take Manhattan and Famous Blue Raincoat. I have no real explanation for this effect.

The set list for the Hobart show was very similar to the generous list (at least relative to other Australian shows) that was performed on the second night at Melbourne. The changes for this show are the substitution of a ripping rendition of The Darkness for Born In Chains and the omission of another new song, Feels So Good, from Set 2. Because of slightly longer breaks for crowd applause, and a slower delivery on a couple of songs, the overall time for the show was probably only a little less than the second Melbourne show (which makes it one of the longer Australian concerts to date).

Set 1

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 The Darkness (new spoken intro)
09 Chelsea Hotel #2
10 Waiting For The Miracle
11 Anthem

Set 2

12 Tower of Song
13 Suzanne
14 Avalanche
15 A Singer Must Die
16 Sisters Of Mercy
17 The Gypsy’s Wife
18 The Partisan
19 Boogie Street
20 Hallelujah
21 I’m Your Man
22 A Thousand Kisses Deep [recitation]
23 Take This Waltz

Encore 1

24 So Long, Marianne
25 First We Take Manhattan

Encore 2

26 Famous Blue Raincoat
27 If It Be Your Will
28 Closing Time

There were many specific things that I noticed on the night, many of them more to do with the audience than the performers. But all of them combine to make for a pretty unique night:

  • Clare’s Tall Tales: At one point during her support set, Clare Bowditch jokingly spoke for a bit about how it’s the support acts job to make up stories about the main act. She then proceeded to describe Leonard’s many private jets and the luxurious life that goes with them. She then said that Leonard was actually a magician who had taught her the trick of clapping her hands without them having to touch one another … which she then exercised in the next song (hint: the “clap” on the song was actually a drum machine :-))
  • Fog: There is always a little bit of fog around the stage during Leonard’s show .. I assume they put on a fog machine before people get to the venue, with the idea being that lighting effects look a lot better with a little bit of fog. However, for this show, I think someone may not have entirely recalibrated for the much smaller hall — when I first entered, the whole auditorium looked under a light fog. Cathy (from Adelaide) took off her glasses and cleaned them several times before convincing herself šŸ™‚
  • Dog Boy: As I mentioned, the audience was extraordinarly warm and effusive at this show. There were many people who yelled out things like “We Love You Leonard” all the way through the show; there were lots of whistles and “woah”s. That’s all great, normal kind of stuff that a very warm crowd does. And then there was this one guy at the back right of the seated area (or somewhere close) who I dubbed “Dog Boy” because of his frequent desire to express his enjoyment of the show through dog-like howls, woofs and other sounds that were definitely on the “animal call” end of the spectrum. On the one hand this was quite fun up to a point … but I’m glad I wasn’t sitting next to him!
  • Australia’s Least Engaged Audience Members: At the exact other end of the spectrum were the middle-aged couple sitting next to me (seats G104 and G105 in case you’re worried I’m talking about you!). Honestly, I’m not sure why these people were even at the concert — they talked pretty much all the way through Set 1, despite me very obviously glaring at them several times. They refused to clap for anything, even the introduction of band members. They really seemed to be having a miserable time. Why were these people there? I’d almost like to know what story lead these people to be here.
  • Ain’t No Cure For Love: Before playing this song, Leonard gave a lovely thank you for the audience’s huge response so far, saying “Thank you so much for your warm welcome this evening. We *deeply* appreciate it. So happy to play for you. (pause) And that’s just the very fundamental essence of our problem … which is … There Ain’t No Cure For Love.”
  • Everybody Knows: Leonard was up to his common recent trick of singing some lyrics in the chorus that none of us can hear (because the microphone is away from his mouth). This time, however, the video screen showed his face for the whole time … so maybe some canny fan who can lip read can now tell us what the heck he’s saying šŸ™‚
  • In My Secret Life: “hell, I know what is right”
  • Who By Fire: This was a very slow rendition of this song. One oddity that I’ve noticed every time I’ve seen this performed, but haven’t ever been able to track down: at the very end of this song, just as Roscoe is playing the last note on his stand-up bass, there’s an odd but loud cracking sound. I am now almost entirely convinced that this loud “snap” is the sound of all the back-stage uplights going on at the same time (which happens at the moment I’m talking about).
  • The Darkness: Leonard spoke a short verse at the beginning of this song, which I hadn’t heard before: “The old are kind / but the young are hot / love may be blind / but desire is not … or is it the other way around?”. [edit: LisaLCFan over on the Leonard Cohen Forum has pointed out that these four lines are actually a poem titled “Sorrows of the Elderly” from Leonard’s Book of Longing] There was also a minor lyric change: instead of “don’t use the alcohol” it was “can’t use the alcohol”
  • Chelsea Hotel #2: When singing the final lines “I don’t even think about you that often”, Leonard really, really drew these out to be quite long. While he was singing this song there was a woman towards the side of the floor area doing a swaying Woodstock-era dance.
  • Anthem: Spoken intro: “It is *such* a privilege to play for you tonight; it is such an honour. So grateful to feel your attention and so pleased that you’ve filled up this hall. I can tell you people … it makes me very happy.” This little speech was punctuated by several “woof”s from Dog Boy. Also, during the sung part of this song, Leonard was clearly playing with some of the melody lines, which was sort of interesting.
  • Tower of Song: After a burst of applause for Leonard’s keyboard solo, he said “you are famous for your generosity.”
  • Suzanne: In an odd variation of the rhythm of his lyrical delivery, Leonard actually sang “you can spend the night beside (pause) / her and you know that” (i.e., the word “her” moved from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.
  • Avalanche: I’ve commented in the last few concert write-ups about particular songs that (in my humble opinion) LC has been in exactly the right frame of mind for on the night. For this show it was Avalanche, here delivered with just the right combination of menace and brooding atmosphere, channeling just a smidge of Johnny Cash for seasoning. Best version I’ve heard, accentuated by a slightly husky voiced Leonard.
  • A Singer Must Die: Minor lyrical change — “I will beg for the mercy”; LC’s delivery of the line “The lady’s go moist” throughout the song was particularly hollow and husky, making this a particularly sleazy sounding lyric.
  • The Partisan: Now this is an odd one that I can’t personally get to the bottom of. I am aware than when performing this song in French speaking countries, it’s not uncommon for Leonard to substitute “Vous qui le savez / Effacez mon passage” for the line about having many friends. I actually forgot to mention BTW that this substitution occurred on Melbourne Night 2. But for Hobart, it was a different French line that was substituted for the first half of this couplet (with the second line I think still being “Effacez mon passage”) … trouble is, I don’t speak French so can’t really say what it was. I thought I heard the word “Comrade” at the beginning of the line. Anybody?
  • Boogie Street: This got a massive response from the crowd, maybe even the longest applause for the night. Dino made a big point of signalling that all the applause that was being directed to him really belonged to Sharon.
  • Hallelujah: After me recently saying that the verse about taking the name in vain is only rarely performed … here Leonard sang it for a second show in a row. Namecheck: “I didn’t come all the way to Hobart to fool you!”
  • Famous Blue Raincoat: Minor lyrical embelishment — “The enemy, he’s sleeping. The woman, she’s free.”
  • If It Be Your Will: Straight after Leonard spoke the first line of his recitation of this song, an enormous female scream of excitement went up in the auditorium. Apparently someone’s favourite šŸ™‚

Having conquered Hobart, Leonard and the band now head to Adelaide (my home town) for a show on Thursday. I’m obviously very much looking forward to it … and hope that both the band and the crowd can turn on the same kind of magic there!

After that, Leonard heads back to Victoria to play an outdoor show at Hanging Rock (a national park about 60Km north of Melbourne) on Saturday.

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3 Responses to Concert Report: Hobart (15 November 2010)

  1. Another terrific report Dean.
    Here’s hoping that Leonard is limbering up for the performance of his life in Adelaide, especially for you.

    • deanadelaide says:

      Thanks Karen … interestingly, when writing about the unresponsive audience members sitting next to me, I was reminded of your comments about the pair of empty front row seats at the Brisbane concert. In the same way your (writerly) curiosity was piqued by the no-shows, I think I was more than a little intrigued by what story had brought these two people to relatively expensive seats at a concert for an artist they clearly had no interest in.

      • Ants says:

        They were probably there because we get so few shows in Hobart they go to anything at all that’s on.

        I was in the second row, just off centre, with the Webb sisters and Sharon just to my left. Perfect spot to be, and certainly no no-shows there!

        It’s brilliant that you are doing this blog. It’s great to read someone else’s impressions – especially someone who’s been to so many of his shows and can articulate their thoughts so well – and get the set lists (I always forget all about writing song titles down), and with the bonus of photos as well. Thank you!

        Enjoy tonight, I’m sure it’ll be fantastic.

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