Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stubborn as Garbage Bags That Time Can't Decay

Last night's trip under the bay and up Broadway to Oakland's art deco palace, the Paramount, to see Leonard Cohen did not disappoint, right down to the fourth encore when the show ended after three and a half hours. There may have been a handful of numbers I was disappointed weren't included ("There Is a War", "A Singer Must Die", "I Came So Far for Beauty"and "Take This Longing" all sadly absent), but every other masterpiece from the arc of his four and a half decades of s0ng writing was there.

To see a man pushing 75 able to just stand and deliver tunes would have been a feat itself, but seeing him prance onto the stage and often crouch, dance and jump was a wonder. Cohen falls into the category of singer-songwriters like Tom Waits, Mark Eitzel and even Dylan who are often revered for the performances despite the vocal limitations. For whatever limitations his voice may have had, every precious word of his poetry was crystal clear, and I had no regrets having spent the $200+ for a seat 12 rows back from the stage and with ushers who treated me like someone in first class not as if they were people pushers on the Tokyo Metro.

The show he put on is essentially identical to the recently released Live in London DVD from which the above clip -- part of the final encore -- comes from. This tune was a perfect, and somewhat unlikely, rousing anthem to end the night. Cohen's tunes are more typically associated with regrets, love affairs gone wrong, self loathing, feelings of unworthiness. But "Democracy" (Is Coming to the USA) ended the night on a note of qualified optimism.

Below is a little known but much beloved (by me) 1965 documentary that I've watched many times called Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Leonard Cohen, made when he was around 30 and still living primarily in Montreal. He was still billing himself as a poet/stand up comic and had yet to launch his musical career in earnest. It's shock to see his face without a line, feeling like a cross between Dustin Hoffman and Lenny Bruce. It's also a sign that while he's evolved so much over nearly half a century, many things are constant -- he still has the same impish humor, is still a dapper dresser (likely from coming from a long line of Montreal clothiers), and can weave back to deeper meaning of the simplest point.

This is clearly his legacy tour, and I hope he makes a few million to replenish the fortune lost by his previous manager. Among his last numbers was a spoken word version of "If It Be Your Will", delivered humbly as he removed his fedora and spoke softly as if some professor emeritus in the McGill philosphy department, followed by an angelic rendition of the same words by the "Webb Sister", one of whom accompanied herself on a harp.
"If It Be Your Will"

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

This review in the Chronicle gives a brief accounting of the amazing band that surrounded his performances deftly and lovingly.

I was reminded of having had the privilege of seeing Nina Simone a couple of times late in her career, and this felt a bit bittersweet knowing that this was a sage for whom autumn is already a dim memory. Yet he has retained all of his faculties, and his words ring truer than ever, beautifully delivered in his tobacco and port burnished voice.

Labels: , ,


At 8:05 PM, Blogger Aunty Christ said...

I'll admit it. I'm jealous.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Aunty - Isn't his next show in Seattle? It's worth heading over there from Saskatoon.

At 6:19 PM, Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

wow!!! sounds transcendent, I'm so happy you went and I am able to get a bit of vicarious enjoyment by reading this marvelous post! blogging bud citizen k, is going to the show in seattle....

thanks for the post!!!

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Kim - The new Live in London DVD is essentially the same show and worth getting.


Post a Comment

<< Home