Monday, November 12, 2012

Tower of Song

We saw Leonard Cohen in concert last night at the Rose Garden, the Old Ideas tour. They had the venue curtained off to make it smaller, what they call Theater of the Clouds, which seats four or five thousand, and it was sold out. We had good seats, and had ourselves a fine old time.

You probably know about Cohen, a Canadian-born poet who eventually got into putting his poems to music. He's been around forever, though we discovered him only about twenty-five years back. Came across him singing "Tower of Song" on some TV show and was instantly hooked by his deep voice and lyrics.

If you haven't heard him or of him, you almost certainly know his songs, which have been covered by all kinds of artists. "Bird on a Wire," "Suzanne," "Hallelujah." He writes about love and pain and sex and apparently knows a lot about them all.

His life story is fascinating, which story includes leaving showbiz and moving to a zen monastery at Mount Baldy, where he lived for years. Eventually, he left and went back out on the road. The reason given is that his manager ripped him off for millions and he was broke, but that wasn't really it.

Years of booze and cigarettes turned his voice into a basso profundo so deep I can't hit any of the bottom notes and have to sing his stuff up an octave. I bet his zen chants are something to hear.

Cohen got a standing ovation when he took the stage, dressed in his signature outfit: A dark  gray suit and fedora, and rightfully so: The man is seventy-eight years old. The show began around eight p.m. and ended around eleven-thirty, with a twenty minute break between sets. He stood most of the time, now and then he dropped into seiza (both knees down) , and when he popped back up from kneeling, he made it look effortless. All those years of zazen.

Sneaked in a couple of Oms, recited poetry to a soft jazzy background, took off his hat and bowed to each of the band or singers as they did solos, and they all got a chance. Well, except for the drummer, of course ...

He fronted a great group: Three back-up singers, a lead guitarist, acoustic guitarist, acoustic twelve-string and an oud–something that looks like a giant mandolin; a violinist, a bassist, a drummer, keyboardist. Cohen sang, played electric nylon string, a bit of rinky-tink keyboard, and even a mouth harp. As tight a group as I've ever heard, they had everything nailed perfectly. The audience sat there rapt, somebody occasionally yelling out, "We love you, Leonard!" He laughed and bantered with the audience as he ran through fifty-some years worth of albums.

I went to hear "Tower of Song," and "Hallelujah," "Ain't No Cure for Love," "Take This Waltz," "Everybody Knows," and "I'm Your Man," and he did all those and a whole lot more. One of the best shows we've ever seen.


Jay said...

I would love to see Leonard live - time and distance consistently interfere. Glad it was a good show for you.

Mike Byers said...

Sounds like a great concert, and I wish I had been there. As fate would have it, I've been working on his "Joan of Arc" lately, one of my top ten in the list of lyrics I wish I'd written.

Steve Perry said...

I've got two of Cohen's songs in my repertoire, "Tower of Song," and "Hallelujah." Tower I do the whole thing, but Hallelujah I condensed to four verses and changed a bit, because I wanted to be able to remember all the words ...