Leonard Cohen – A Day on the Green @ Leconfield Winery, Adelaide (26/01/09)
As Leonard Cohen recites A Thousand Kisses Deep way into the second hour of his show, the audience is hushed, hanging on every breathy word, completely enraptured. Out in a field with thousands of true believers, it’s like the Sermon on the Mount, but with better poetry (and a smarter suit).
These Day on the Green shows are different to most gigs. Sure there is still a stage and a PA, but the audience is a lot older, cashed up and generally a little upmarket. This is only a problem with this tiered seating system (Gold, Silver and GA) – it means if you haven’t got the bucks to sit down front, you are quite a long way from the stage and you see much of the show as if on a big TV. It also means that if you do have the bucks for the gold or silver seats, you have to deal with people who feel like they can eat chicken and talk about their holidays while the bands are on (and I am specifically looking at you, Silver section B2, row A). That said, the staging and organisation was exemplary. An excellent shuttle service from the town to the gig deserves noting, as do the reasonable food and drink prices and helpful staff.
The start of the day was uncomfortable, with the sun pounding down on the thousands of people as they make their way to the site. But soon Augie March takes to the stage and despite baking in the sun’s glare (aimed straight at the stage) their semi-acoustic set (aided by Dan Kelly) was enthusiastically met by the early crowd.
Paul Kelly turned in his usual sterling set and was the perfect choice for this gig. His songs are perhaps a little less maudlin than Mr Cohen’s, but they pluck the heart strings in a similarly deep place. When I First Met Your Ma in particular is just plain glorious this afternoon.
At 7.30, the sun setting yet still fierce, Leonard Cohen (75 years old) runs onto the stage in a suit and snappy hat, joins his sharply dressed nine-piece band and starts singing Dance Me to the End of Love. From the first line it is breath-taking and goose-bump inspiring. His voice is magnificent and the band immaculate. It is quite possibly the best live sound at an outdoor venue I have ever heard. For the next two and a half hours, this concert was a dream. Unlike some legends of his age and standing, Cohen delivers pretty much a – “hits’ package, in their original arrangements, feeling no need to change tempos, arrangements or genres to keep himself amused (hey, we’ve all seen Dylan) – just all those classic songs performed precisely the way this audience wanted them performed. The first set included Bird on a Wire, an exhilarating Everybody Knows, Who by Fire and incredibly moving renditions of In my Secret Life and Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye. But the first set highlight was Chelsea Hotel #2. When he delivers the line “Giving me head, on the unmade bed, while the limousines wait in the street” there are squeals of delight from all over the valley. Leonard Cohen is still pretty sexy, with a glint in his eye and suggestive curl on his lip, it is clear that the powerful lust and longing that were such a part of his appeal are still intact. “You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception” and the squeals turn to screams as it would seem many in the audience would make the same exception. And, as the band vamps, Leonard skips off the stage.
After a short break, the sun has gone down and the dusk is warm but more comfortable. Mr Cohen again runs onto the stage and they launch into Tower Of Song and the level of awe reaches new heights. The rest of the set is pure genius. Suzanne, The Partisan, I’m Your Man (more screams at the line “I’ll examine every precious little inch of you”). Hallelujah is almost biblical – people are crying, singing along, swelling with emotion at seeing this great man, this legend, this artist, performing this masterwork of modern song. Many are overwhelmed. At various points when members of his band are taking solos, Leonard can be seen to be completely enraptured by their grace
and talent, as enamoured of his fellow musicians as the audience was with him. Whilst reciting A Thousand Kisses Deep, we are reminded why this talented man is so loved by this audience. The power, the velocity and pinpoint precision of his words to their emotional target is unparalleled. The entire vineyard is in complete silence, as his breathy baritone drawls:
“The autumn slipped across your skin
Got something in my eye
A Light that doesn’t need to live
And doesn’t need to die
A riddle in the book of love
Obscure and obsolete – “Til witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep”
When he finishes the entire vineyard erupts with one of many standing ovations (I counted fourteen) and the band vamps into the set closer Take This Waltz. After again skipping from the stage, Leonard soon returns for three encores. So Long Marianne and First We Take Manhattan were staggering and seemingly unbeatable until the second round of Famous Blue Raincoat, If It Be Your Will and the more recent Democracy. This third song from his 1992 album The Future has quite some new resonance with Obama in the White House :
“I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags that Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
The finale encore is an amusing choice I Tried to Leave You, which is met with thunderous applause and a final lingering standing ovation. He removes his hat, takes a humble bow and thanks us for coming. As we trudge out of this vineyard, back to the shuttle buses, then back to our cars, and back to our lives people are breaking out in song, spontaneous communal sing along from people who have waited all their lives for a chance to experience Leonard Cohen in the flesh.
This night will be remembered by one and all as one of the truly great performances of our lives.
Dance Me to the End of Love
Ain’t No Cure for Love
Bird on a Wire
In My Secret Life
Who by Fire
Chelsea Hotel #2
That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
Ring the Bells
Tower Of Song
The Gypsy’s Wife
I’m Your Man
1000 Kisses Deep
Take This Waltz
So Long Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If it be Your Will
I’ve Tried To Leave You