Due to its scheduling during the school summer holidays, I was forced to
miss Leonard Cohen's performance last year in the rather oddly chosen Olympic
Whilst that stadium is within easy walking distance of my house, the same
cannot be said of Ahoy in Rotterdam. Getting to that city is never convenient
and I generally try to avoid gigs there, but when I heard that Leonard Cohen
would be swinging back this way for another show, I didn't have to spend long
thinking about it.
Cohen would later go on to announce a concert at Amsterdam's Ziggo Dome, the
last of the European tour, as a matter of fact, but it was announced long
after the rest of the tour had been finalised. Perhaps it was in response to
brisk ticket sales at Ahoy, but it came late enough in the day that it isn't
even listed in the official tour programme. Had I known that an Amsterdam date
would be added to the tour calendar, I probably would have skipped Rotterdam,
but having already purchased a good ticket, I wasn't inclined to sell it when
Amsterdam was announced.
I leave from home in what I believe to be plenty of time, but as always, it
turns out to take much longer than expected to traverse the 75km. The
motorway isn't the problem tonight; it's the huge amount of traffic converging
on Ahoy and the idiotic way the venue's car park is run, requiring not only
payment on the way _in_, but also the barrier to be lowered and raised for
every single car entering the grounds. And now many people are here tonight?
15,000? Many of them have come from outside the city and clearly decided to
use their car.
I still arrive in time, but not with the wide margin I'd anticipated. As such,
I have just enough time to squeeze in a quick bite to eat before setting up my
gear and taking my seat in the void of the characterless concrete bowl that is
A prerecorded announcement warns the crowd that the concert will commence in
ten minutes. The warning is repeated at five minutes, but anyone not yet
present in the auditorium will be unable to hear it. Nevertheless, it would be
nice if warnings like this were the norm for all concerts, particularly those
at which late arrivals cause a very obvious disturbance.
At 20:10, the band take to the stage, clad in suits and trilbies. An
identically attired Cohen comes bounding on behind them, looking very
sprightly for a man who will turn 79 later this week. The overgrown nuclear
bunker of the Ahoy erupts into jubilant applause.
The experience soon becomes akin to attending five gigs at the same time,
because Cohen has assembled from around the world a band of such virtuosity
that any one of its members could be the star of their own show.
Take the Spanish guitar player, Javier Mas, for example. His mastery of the
twelve string is breathtaking. Just listen to his intro to 'Who By Fire' and
pay attention to the little flourishes that embellish every song on which he
Then there's Mitch Watkins, a professor at the Music Department of the
University of Texas, on electric guitars. His blues guitar is simply
Cohen's young violinist hails from Moldova and answers to the name of
Alexandru Bublitchi. His playing imbues the music with a rich melancholic
vein. Listen to the songs as performed here and try to imagine how different
they would sound without the violin.
Neil Larsen, the keyboardist, is another master of his art. It's a joy to
behold close-ups of his hands at work on the big screens suspended high above
the left and right of the stage.
The first set lasts about 75 minutes, already way beyond the duration of many
of the gigs I attend. Cohen excuses himself and announces that the band will
return in a few minutes.
The intermission is no luxury, if the numbers filing out of the auditorium for
some combination of a toilet stop, a hot-dog, a beer or a fag are anything to
The prerecorded warnings return, but many fail to heed them. During the first
number of the second set, dozens of people are still filing back into the
auditorium, clutching ice-cream cornets and obscuring the view of those they
nonchalantly saunter past. I'm necessarily reminded of the fact that some
people take music a lot less seriously than I do.
One three song encore gives way to another three song encore, concluded by the
very deliberately chosen and applicably themed 'Closing Time'. Cohen's parting
words are undeniably final, so it's a big surprise (for me, at least) when he
reemerges for a third encore, bringing the total number of songs played after
the main set to a generous eight.
But that really is our lot, with the show clocking in at just under three
hours. Not bad for a 79 year old man, especially when you consider that he
spent the entire time on his feet. If I ever reach the grand old age of 79, I
hope I can boast Leonard Cohen's energy.
I had sworn myself an oath against merchandise tonight, but I'm impressed
enough by the show to consider a souvenir tour programme on the way out. Even
browsing through the article prior to buying isn't sufficient to put me off.
As tour programmes go, this is a decent one, and EUR 15 is less than plenty of
names of Cohen's stature would try to get away with, so I'm favourably
disposed and make the purchase.
And now begins the car park madness all over again, only this time we're all
trying to get out.
Cohen performs at a relatively low volume, so some moderate microphone gain is
required to bring the volume of the recording up to an acceptable level. An
inevitable consequence of this is that the sound of the audience around me has
also been amplified.
I picked my seat this evening to have a good location from which to tape. Any
further forward and my line to the overhead PA would have been too sharp. Any
further back and excessive reverberation and audience noise would have been
the result. As with any audience recording made in a large venue with a high
overhead PA, one's chosen location is always a compromise.
The dynamic range of the performance is wide and I have therefore found it
necessary to boost the quieter songs in post-production. This presents a
couple of problems.
Firstly, Cohen repeatedly praises the virtuosity of his musicians, which
invariably leads to loud mid-song cheering and applause from the audience.
Secondly, this is the kind of audience that loves to wildly applaud a song at
the moment of recognition, a pet peeve of mine. Uptight as I am, I believe
applause should be saved for the song's conclusion. The performer doesn't need
to know that I have recognised the song he has just started to sing, nor to
know that I heartily approve of his decision to do so.
Anyway, since many of the songs here demonstrate the 'hearty, mid-song
applause' phenomenon, I have elected to perform only minimal attenuation of
the audience noise throughout the recording. It is inextricably interwoven
with the music, such that a serious attempt at its reduction would inevitably
have a jarring effect on the listening experience by introducing unwelcome
fluctuations in volume.
This overriding preference for consistency notwithstanding, I have softened
some particularly thunderous hand claps from people near me when these
occurred during the music and sounded close enough in the recording to not be
easily tuned out by the listener.
Other than that, the audience's reverent enthusiasm has been left intact and,
in any case, falls a long way short of ever overwhelming the recording.
In spite of the hands-off approach taken on this occasion, I have still
applied 790 individual edits to the recording. This work, much of it tedious,
has taken many hours over the last few days. The result, however, is worth the
I wanted this recording (as I do _all_ of my recordings, in fact) to be all
that it could be. I feel that Leonard Cohen, more than most, is an artist
whose unofficial recordings frequently fail to do him justice. All too often,
he's either too quiet, too distant, or both. I believe that this recording
successfully avoids those pitfalls.
Samples are provided in the comments for you to determine whether this is
worth your time and share ratio depletion.
Stay tuned for my recording of the Amsterdam concert within a few days.
Some photos of tonight's concert:
http://www.cuttingedge.nl/photoalbums/l ... -rotterdam