CONCERT REPORT: Chicago, May 5 and 6
Posted: Tue May 05, 2009 4:41 am
For those who couldn't wait (like me)...
Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre
By Jim DeRogatison May 5, 2009 10:47 PM
For a Buddhist monk, Leonard Cohen showed little evidence Tuesday of "being here and now."
The 74-year-old Canadian singer and songwriter's more than three-hour performance during the first of two sold-out shows at the Chicago Theatre followed the same set list as every other show on the tour, including the one documented on his recent album "Live in London." Even the patter was identical.
The last time he toured, a decade and a half ago, the musical legend was "just a crazy kid with a dream," he quipped.
But spontaneity wasn't the point, even if it was essential to another of his key inspirations, the Beat movement. This was an unexpected late-career victory lap, necessitated by having lost most of his savings, but nonetheless a welcome gift to fans who either thought they'd never see him again, or who knew him only through covers by Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Rufus Wainwright and countless others.
Though Cohen is one of the most poetic songwriters to emerge in the '60s, second perhaps only to Bob Dylan in terms of the many gems in his impressive catalog, his studio recordings often are marred by syrupy over-production at odds with the simple brilliance of his writing and the limited but powerful instrument of that gravelly bass voice.
There were moments Tuesday when the polished nine-piece band over-played or sounded just too slick and lite for the material. But the poignant beauty of the songs simply couldn't be denied as one classic followed another, rife with grand Biblical allusions and gritty barroom epiphanies: "Bird on the Wire," "Suzanne," "Chelsea Hotel" and "Hallelujah"--most of all "Hallelujah," a song that even blew Dylan's mind.
Cohen's versions of those and more than 20 others were revelatory in the way that it's always illuminating to hear a great writer read their own work. Wearing his familiar black suit and fedora and dancing with a gentle shuffle or dropping to one knee, he was in fine voice and seemingly humbled by the adoration. And best of all, he seemed ready to go for 74 years more.
Yes -- it was a very special evening -- we met our new friends from this forum -- Joe & Anne Way + Wondercookie (Alice) & Scott ---- We got to meet Rafael Gayol (the drummer) before the concert & he is a very gentle human being -----fameuxbleu wrote:What a wonderful concert it was tonight! I was lucky enough to see him in L.A. on Good Friday and tonight (5th) in Chicago. The L.A. show had 2 more songs I can think of that were not played in Chicago (Closing Time/That don't make it junk) but there was something different in Chicago.
Maybe it's the difference between the 7,000+ Nokia Theater and the Chicago Theater, which has about half that capacity. The stage is more compact, and it made the whole concert feel way more intimate. The band and backup singers were just closer to one another, tighter together. The Webb sisters had less cartwheel room but they still were able to pull it off on the tight Chicago stage. Also, the gorgeous Beaux-Arts or whatchamacallit style of the room felt more right to the show than the ultra-modern shiny Nokia theater.
Maybe this is also an analogy of these two cities and there's something that appeals more to me about seeing a show in a beautiful rugged city than in my adoptive ultra-modern shiny L.A. I felt like the crowd here was better than in L.A. (even though for an L.A. crowd, the good people with me at the L.A. show were by far the best concert crowd I have seen in years in L.A.).People were standing and dancing for a few songs tonight. Didn't happen in L.A.
The Nokia is a very nice theater and the giant screens gave everyone a chance to see close-ups but those were also distracting in a way - should I look up there or at the stage. The giant screen captured more of Leonard's face from under the hat at times, but I'm still ambivalent about that being a plus because for certain songs, only barely seeing a face under the shadow of the fedora added to the dark feeling of the lyrics. However, you won't hear me complain about the giant screen closeups of the Webb sisters
So, despite the absence of those 2 songs, the Chicago concert will likely leave me with longer-lasting images. 40 years from now (G-d and Al's hammer willing), I'll probably remember images from tonight rather than ones from Good Friday in L.A. Hopefully, I'll remember both though
Leonard also seemed to have more energy. Maybe it was the closeness to the other musicians on stage that added to the energy level, maybe he also had to cover less distance during the show than he had to in L.A. I was worried that he may have less energy as that pretty intensely-booked tour goes on, but au contraire... he just seemed a little younger tonight.
Anyway, wow wow wow. To anyone who is still hesitating about going tomorrow (6th) in Chicago, just go.
Concert review: Leonard Cohen at Chicago Theatre
“Love is not some kind of victory march,” Leonard Cohen intoned Tuesday while performing his classic song “Hallelujah.” But for Cohen, who has been away from the touring circuit since 1993, his first of two sold-out concerts at the Chicago Theatre was exactly that.
He wore a black suit and snap-brim hat for the occasion, and dropped to one knee as if offering each of his songs up as a sacrament.
At age 74, the Canadian-born poet, novelist and songwriter supreme has never been more popular; when last he played Chicago, nearly 16 years ago, he was headlining a venue one-quarter of the size. Absence, it appears, has its benefits.
Instead of continuing to make albums in the ‘90s, he spent six years in a monastery. And that monastic reserve pervaded his presentation, lending gravity and dignity to even the simplest gestures. When one of his musicians performed a solo, Cohen quietly removed his hat and stood enraptured. But it was all just window-dressing for some of the greatest songs of the last 40 years, 26 in all spread over three hours.
In many of them, life can be one cruel ride, but somehow the narrator keeps paying the carny at the door for one more chance. God, if he exists at all, looks down on the whole thing with a bemused silence. The characters are worn-down wanderers who got more than they bargained for, and these songs are their moments of truth.
The lyrics are sprinkled with biblical allusions and sexually charged imagery. Cohen’s readings suggested chain-smoking detectives in trench coats reading a murder report, then extrapolating the details, the circumstances, that would drive human beings to do such desperate things.
Cohen’s presentation was meticulous, right down to the scripted between-songs patter. His nine-piece backing band consisted of able musicians who at times erred on the side of prettiness. The saxophone solos in particular sounded out of place, oozing sweetness.
These arrangements had nothing to do with rock’s Southern, rhythm-oriented sound. Even the disco beat for “First We Take Manhattan” sounded ironic. Instead, this was dark, European fare, flavored by Spanish guitar and hymn-like chord changes. Cohen’s deadpan baritone suited the material perfectly, and singers Charley and Hattie Webb followed suit with a beautifully unadorned reading of “If it be Your Will.”
“Tower of Song” was even more sparse, with an arrangement built on a pre-set keyboard rhythm that sounded straight out of a surreal “Blue Velvet” lounge. As this concert reiterated, Cohen’s songs are best served without extra seasoning. They’re that good.
Leonard Cohen’s set list Tuesday at Chicago Theatre
1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. The Future
3. Ain’t No Cure for Love
4. Bird on the Wire
5. Everybody Knows
6. In My Secret Life
7. Who by Fire
8. Chelsea Hotel #2
9. Waiting for the Miracle
11. Tower of Song
13. The Gypsy’s Wife
14. The Partisan
15. Boogie Street
17. I’m Your Man
18. A Thousand Kisses Deep
19. Take This Waltz
20. So Long, Marianne
21. First We Take Manhattan
22. Famous Blue Raincoat
23. If It Be Your Will
25. I Tried to Leave You
26. Whither Thou Goest
Dontcha know you live forever when you do a line or two?lizzytysh wrote:Oh, so very very wonderful to read these reviews. I agree regarding the nature of this theatre and I love the 'oriental' rug and the marquee.
Every single time I read one, I fill with enormous feelings of pride and awe. Thank you Leonard for all you have brought us and continue to bring; and thank you, those who write the reviews, and bring the words and emotions that allow for me to experience these feelings over and over and over, again. They bring me the reminder of how glad I am to be alive and to have lived during the same time as Leonard Cohen. So many in generations to come will not have that privilege.
Recap: Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre
by Jeremy Gantz May 7, 2009
After being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008, Leonard Cohen could have announced that he was retreating back to the Zen Buddhist monastery in California where he spent half of the '90s. No one would have begrudged the now 74-year-old songwriter/poet/prince of wryness for living out his remaining days in solitude.
Instead, Cohen announced a massive new tour—his first in 15 years—and was soon jetting around North America, Europe, and Australia. He visited Chicago this week for a pair of shows at the Chicago Theatre, and the venue’s baroque opulence would seem like an odd setting for a man whose brooding music is more meditation than celebration, more confession booth than choir. But then, Cohen has always been a paradox: The literate brilliance of his music’s world-weary melancholy has made people happy for 40 years. He was a hesitant star, wanting to stand apart from “the figures of beauty” (as he called celebrities in “Chelsea Hotel”) even as he became one.
On Wednesday night, Cohen was rapturously greeted by a standing ovation the moment he walked onstage. So began a three-hour concert that delivered all the goods any diehard Cohen fan could ask for. It was a career retrospective (with hits from "Hallelujah" to "A Thousand Kisses Deep") that never crossed into canned indulgence because Cohen’s band beautifully breathed new life into old, spare songs (“Suzanne,” most notably).
Songs aside, the brilliance of Cohen’s performance was that he somehow retained his arch wryness while being the consummate showman. His gentle, exquisite theatrics—kneeling to sing many songs prayerfully, taking his hat off during applause—were balanced by deadpan banter. "Excuse me for not dying," Cohen memorably told the packed hall a few minutes after joking he had spent the 15 years since his last Chicago performance doing Prozac and Paxil. That graciousness spilled into the multiple encores, which offered more fan service.
His final song of the night was "I Tried To Leave You" from 1974's near perfect New Skin For The Old Ceremony—as if to suggest Cohen needed his audience as much they needed him. Who knew he was such a romantic showman? When he closed the evening with a simple note of gratitude—"Thank you for keeping my songs alive"—the room erupted at his humility.