Last night's concert marked Leonard's return to Melbourne a little less than two years after his last show, which was a very emotional concert which took place at a time when the state of Victoria was in the midsts of its worst ever bushfires. This show was a worthy successor to that last, memorable performance, although perhaps not rising to quite the same heights of emotion as either that earlier show or (ironically) Monday's show in Sydney.
The weather in Melbourne (which is always somewhat changeable) was oddly humid throughout the day, but a change was forecast to come through in the evening. As it transpired, the massive and sudden downpour -- complete with thunder and lightning -- came in just as most fans were making their way to the arena. Like many fans I was coming to the venue from the city via the large covered bridge which goes across the railway and tramway tracks at the rear of the arena. By the time I got to this bridge the storm was in full swing and many people seemed to be huddling under the bridge canopy waiting for it to subside. Fortunately I'd remembered to bring an umbrella, although many hadn't.
As mentioned elsewhere, I had the enormous good fortune to meet up with several folks from the forum at this concert -- I tracked down Andrew (Darby) before the show; notjustadoll found me in my seat; and we all met up with ania after the show for drinks. As always, everyone was wonderful and gracious and enthusiastic about Cohen and his music. It was a real pleasure to spend a couple of hours sharing a few drinks with like minded fans (and a few newly converted ones).
The Rod Laver arena is another one of the big and boxy sporting arenas that form most of the venues for Leonard's tour of Australian and New Zealand. But despite this, sound quality was excellent and the view from the floor was also good (even though I was quite a way back). Acer Arena could learn a *lot* from the way this venue was set up.
I don't really know why, but Leonard seems to feel particularly at ease in Melbourne ... at his show last year, he was clearly affected by the tragedy that was taking place at the time and spoke some very kind and sensitive words (not to mention donating a big chunk of money to the cause). At last night's show, it was totally clear from the first second he came to the stage that he was feeling very comfortable in front of this audience. He was generally a lot chattier throughout (particularly in the first set), and actually started the show by giving quite a long spoken monologue before the band had played their first note -- something I don't think I've seen before, and a definite sign that Our Man feels very much with friends here in Melbourne. Hopefully this will continue over to tonight's show, as it creates quite a vibrant and engaging atmosphere which in turn energises the audience.
The crowd was generally very warm and effusive with its applause, actually being quite a loud audience. The huge cheer that went up when Leonard first took the stage was probably the loudest and most energetic that I've heard on this tour so far. Strangely, however, while the level of audience response was high throughout it never much evolved as the night went on -- it was fairly much a similar level throughout. Contrast this with the Sydney show from Monday, which started quite flat but went through a dramatic change to end up with the crowd being almost ecstatic by the end. The Melbourne crowd seemed happy to offer up big applause, and occasional shouts of "We Love You Leonard!", but were a litte slower than usual to offer up a standing ovation at the end of Set 2 and the encores. It made for an atmosphere of undoubted warmth, but also felt a little like the crowd were holding back. [One of the things I've puzzled over now that I've seen many Cohen shows in short succession is the different ways audiences respond ... I still haven't fathomed the dynamics, and last night is still a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps that's why Leonard referred to "the mysterious city of Melbourne" (see Hallelujah notes below).]
As far as the set-list is concerned, this show represented a bit of a shuffling of songs and one big 'new' addition. The main shuffling that took place was to move Famous Blue Raincoat from the Encore set to the first set. This made the encores one song shorter, although the overall duration of the show was very much similar to other recent Australian shows (8:15 start, 11:15 sharp end with a precise 20 minute interval). The big 'new' addition was Democracy, added in to the first set ... Looking back at Maarten's set lists, this song hasn't been performed in the main set since mid-2009 (although has been scattered occasionally in encores), and is a welcome return.
Overall I'm slightly in two minds about the set-list from last night's show: from my own (maybe selfish) perspective it is great to see the set list change from night to night. However, the omission of all three "currently active" new songs (The Darkness, Born In Chains and Feels So Good) means that there was little that was truly new for the Melbourne audience.
The full set list for the night was:
01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
02 The Future
03 Bird On The Wire
04 Everybody Knows
05 Who By Fire
06 Famous Blue Raincoat
08 Chelsea Hotel #2
09 Waiting For The Miracle
11 Tower Of Song
14 A Singer Must Die
15 Sisters Of Mercy
16 The Gypsy's Wife
17 The Partisan
19 I'm Your Man
20 A Thousand Kisses Deep [recitation]
21 Take This Waltz
22 So Long, Marianne
23 First We Take Manhattan
24 I Tried To Leave You
25 Closing Time
Some specific points I noticed, which make this show unique:
- Age of the audience: there was a much greater age range present at this show than any other show on this Australian tour so far -- I saw people from 18 to 80
- Appearance of the performers: I noticed for the first time that Javier's suit has bright red buttons on the cuffs, which are quite eye-catching. I'm not sure if it was due to the stage area being hotter than usual, or his performance being more energetic, but Dino's bald head was clearly beaded with sweat for most of the first set solos.
- Curfew: While we still don't know why the Australian shows are a little shorter than other recent performances by the band, I noticed last night when looking at one of the video screen shots taken of Leonard from behind, that he has a very large clock propped up on the stage in front of him (between a pair of set lists). So time is clearly of some importance
- Intro monologue: as mentioned, Leonard spoke as soon as he was on stage. He said: "Thank you so much for that warm welcome, I really appreciate it. We're very happy to be invited back and I really want to thank you for climbing those heights. And please don't lean forward, because that would produce an avalanche .. which would only be amusing in the short run. Ah, so happy to be back here ... I was sitting with Roscoe and Ed on Bourke St the other day watching the people go by - everybody had a smile on their face and I remarked that I guess they hadn't heard the bad news. I guess that's why I'm here though." He then went on to tell the audience that tonight the band was going to give everything they've got.
- Everybody Knows: Leonard continues to experiment quite a bit with his vocal delivery of this song. Last night's performance included a whole section where he deliberately syncopated his vocal lines with the rhythms of the music, which made for a slightly different feel.
- Who By Fire: Javier gave a different (but still long) intro to the song. This time around the first third sounded (to me) more like a classical Spanish guitar piece, while the last third was peppered with extreme pitch bends caused by Javier wildly pushing the lower strings up against the higher strings on the fret.
- Famous Blue Raincoat: as mentioned, moved from the encores into the main set. As with a couple of performances ago, there was a vocal elaboration: "The Ancient Enemy is sleeping"
- Democracy: this song seems to have slightly morphed since the last time I heard it, mainly in little ways. Leonard refrained from singing the first chorus, letting the girls take the honours. The little splash cymbal accent that was used in several places (e.g., after "coming through a crack in the wall") seems to have been dropped. Leonard gave a jokey spoken intro to the song: "This next song's about a political system. It's not about an election. It's not about a candidate. It's not about an agenda. It's true that my opinons may change but that doesn't alter the fact that I'm right" Part of this presumably refers back to the way this song was co-opted by one of the American political parties for a campaign in the 90s.
- Anthem: Leonard gave his normal spoken intro about how priveleged we are to be able to gather ("those who can, ring the bells"). During the band introductions, Dino was introduced as playing "the black clarinet" (but not the "silver guitar", which I think is fair since the omission of Feels So Good means that Dino *doesn't* actually play guitar during the performance). Rafael's intro continues to evolve: he's moved on from clipping "its" toenails to clipping "its" fingernails. One can but wonder where this is heading ...
- The Flowers: Just as Leonard was telling the audience that the band was leaving for a set break, a lady in the very front row thrust a bouquet of flowers up on stage. It slightly blindsided Leonard who quickly responded "Thank you very much, I appreciate it" before picking up the flowers and putting them down behind him. According to ania (who was seated nearby), the lady was holding the flowers in Leonard's general direction for quite some time before he noticed ... and apparently they were flowers grown in her own garden. Sweet.
- Tower of Song: a bit of a mistake with the Rod Laver Arena's system of warning patrons that the performance is just starting meant that a series of very audible "reminder" tones got played in the auditorium while Leonard was singing "Hank Williams hasn't answered yet." I think that's pretty unforgivable, and if I were the performer I would be disappointed.
- Suzanne: On some nights Leonard seems to be in just the mind-set for this song, maybe channelling the younger man who went down to the place by the river. Tonight was one of those occasions when he totally nailed this song.
- Avalanche: again there was the lyric "I never knew how much I wanted you, oh love beyond belief". For this performance of the song, Leonard's vocals seemed especially emotive.
- A Singer Must Die: this song apparently has a new lighting design (very nice, see my photos). There was a minor lyrical elaboration: "your helmets your truncheons, the message comes through"
- Hallelujah: Name check -- "I did not come to the mysterious city of Melbourne to fool you". Strangely, just before delivering this line (actually at the beginning of the verse) Leonard paused for several bars which meant we got an unusual laid-back instrumental break right in the most emotionally intense part of the song. Kind of unsual.
- I'm Your Man: As with the Sydney show, this song provoked a lot of cat-calling from the audience. It wasn't as sleazy as the Sydney performance, but was still a big hit with the audience. We had the now-common "wear an old man's mask for you" as well as the newer "you know damn well you can".
- A Thousand Kisses Deep: This was a very expressive reading of this poem, very heart-felt. Because of this there was more than usual audience feedback during the reading -- laughter in the places Leonard intends and some nice applause.
- First We Take Manhattan: I'm not sure if Rafael has been listening to Parliament CDs in the tour bus, but he seemed to be really trying to funk up the rhythm in this performance of the song. He even threw in a few extra double-kicks to the normal rhythm at a few points. This, and some nice organ solos, definitely gave this a more than usual funkiness
- I Tried To Leave You: Somewhere around Leonard singing the line, "I cannot deny" a woman from the back of the auditorium very loudly yelled out "We love you Leonard," to which the crowd gave a big applause. During the drum solo, Rafael gave a kiss and wink combo to the camera (I saw it this time, not having the talents of Cathy (from Adelaide) with me on the night). He also set himself a fairly easy task when tossing his brush ... and easily caught it.
- Closing Time: Leonard gave a shortish version of the spoken outro about stacking up the chairs, etc. This seems to have now become a standard part of the song. His very last words to the audience was "Until the next time!"
For me, the proverbial "next time" is back at Rod Laver tonight for Melbourne, Night 2. Here's hoping for an equally spirited performance ...
Dean (from Adelaide)