I just returned from the Brussels 20th October concert and it was very interesting to contrast it with the two earlier concerts that I saw and enjoyed in the first part of the tour.
The two previous concerts at Dublin and Bruges were both outdoor so there was a very obvious difference in the atmosphere at the Vorst Nationaal venue, Bruges in particular having very a very much more ‘familiar’ feel to it. The venue was packed for the second of 2 nights and an excellent feature was that there was none of the late arrivals pushing in front of people during early songs, the venue staff making late comers wait until a break in the music before seating them, an considerate policy that all concerts would do well to adopt.
There was no ‘warm up ‘ artist present, after the horrors of Bruges, this was a welcome relief indeed !. Cohen came on stage to rapturous applause as was only to be expected.
The, sometimes criticised, frequent acknowledgement of the band members by Cohen after featured solo performances was gone, replaced by two dedicated spots where all were individually recognised, one in each part of the programme, and also a quick individual thank you to each artist at the end, while the original format had not upset me, this later one I feel to be better.
The set list was changed as well as you would expect, this tour is evolving as it progresses and the songs presented last night offered, I feel, a better balance of Cohen’s work, as well as obviously including his more popular songs. Gone was the poetry reading from Dublin of ‘A thousand kisses deep’, a bit of a shame as that was a lovely counterpoint to the songs, the spoken introduction to the Webb sisters rendition of ‘If it be your will’ was excellent as was the song yet again!! those two girls really have lifted this song to another level for me, their haunting harmonies during this emotive poem really hit a chord with me. I was not the only one wiping tears from his eyes at the end of the song.
I got the impression that the songs had been ‘toned down’ somehow, this is a difficult thing to specify and to pin down and explain what I mean, it could indeed just be the difference between a concert hall and an outdoor venue but there were renditions which lacked the vibrancy of earlier performances, ‘Democracy’ was one that did just not hit the same high as before, the most disappointing for me however was ‘Hallelujah’, this song is one of my all time favourites but after last nights version I did not feel the elation that I normally have afterwards, it was as though each of the choruses were building up to a crescendo which just never arrived, they reached a high plateau, but not the actual summit. At first I wondered if it was a deliberate plan to scale up to a really stunning final chorus, but sadly even that fell short of its normal vibrant triumphalism, strange and very sad.
However the rendition of ‘The Partisan’ was absolutely stunning, by far and away the best I have ever heard, it was everything that last night’s ‘Hallelujah’ was not. The arrangement was truly excellent and particularly emotive in a French speaking country ( well some parts of it anyway ) which was battered by wars in the last century. A real tour de force for Cohen and all the other artists. If there is going to be a DVD of this tour, then this just has to be included.
How on earth can a 74 year old man do a 3+ hour set and still have the energy to skip and dance on and off stage? I don’t know the answer to that, I am however just glad that he can.
Thank you once again to all concerned, I am looking forward to Paris. Perhaps by then the merchandising team can have organised some fat b***artd size tee shirts