Well, last night's Pacific tour closer in Melbourne was a very fitting end to what has been -- by anyone's standards -- an extraordinarily successful and wonderful series of live shows. In front of a close to capacity audience in the big and boomy Rod Laver Arena, our man poured out his heart with a vigour that you'd more associate with a first performance than a last. The crowd was an interesting mix: mostly made up of more restrained, older fans ... but with sprinklings of very loud and enthusiastic fanatics (including myself) scattered throughout. This gave the concert an unusual vibe -- for the most part the audience reaction was quite controlled and civilized, as it has been at other stadium venues such as Sydney (second night) and Brisbane ... but the groups of die-hard fans added lots of noise (and energy) to give the show some zing.
Also (as a bit of a side note), the audience last night seemed to contain a greater-than-average proportion of Paul Kelly fans: maybe not surprising as this is Paul's home town.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Leonard's performance last night was the unusually comfortable way he interacted with the audience. This is something that has been steadily growing as the Pacific tour has unfolded. At the beginning of the tour, most of the banter with the crowd was drawn from the familiar set of wry comments and jokes that he has used in numerous shows through Canada and Europe. But as the tour has unfolded, LC seems to have become a lot more comfortable with varying his audience interactions (and even ad libbing) -- something which seems to go against the man's obsession with carefully considering his words before uttering them out loud. It's almost as though the extraordinary warmth that the Australian audiences have heaped upon him have (gradually) made him feel 'accepted' enough to be comfortable talking that way. Since the Hunter Valley show (destined to be a legendary performance IMHO) our man's been visible more comfortable on the stage -- and last night was no exception.
Here are some of the highlights of the final show that, for me at least, mark it as a unique experience:
1. LC twice referred to the terrible bushfire tragedy that continues to plague Victoria. First, straight after "Dance Me To The End Of Love", he stepped forward and gave a little speech to the audience. He said: "Sometimes the losses are too deep .. and the pain is too acute for anyone in those circumstances to be comforted. So, far from us to try to comfort those in those circumstances. All we can do is provide blankets, and clothes and shelter and money. That's our position, and we hope it's yours too." Later, when introducing "Anthem" LC did the usual references but ended with "Friends, it's very touching to be here at this very moment, when this state is undergoing this ordeal. I'm touched to be able to share the feelings with you. So ... Ring the Bells ..."
2. Sharon Robinson was on fire ... doing some absolutely stunning solo performances. The highlight was "Boogie Street" which had a brand new arrangement as well: towards the end, after the last verse had been sung the band dropped out to allow Sharon to sing a few more refrains with the Webb Sisters harmonizing (in similar style to the very opening of the song). Then the band kicked back in for a few bars at the very end. Kind of interesting arrangement, but one which definitely showed off Sharon's vocal talents.
3. Who By Fire: just as the band was about to start playing the (long) musical intro, someone from the crowd cried out "We love you Leonard". Normally, these have been met with a polite nod of recognition, but this time LC stepped forward to the mike and gave a little impromptu spoken intro: "Thanks so much friends, thanks for your warmth and hospitality this evening. It's deeply appreciated. This song is based on a prayer ... a memorial prayer. You'll understand it as we sing it."
4. Sisters of Mercy: in a brief silence just before the song, someone in the crowd cried out something like "You're Still Sexy". Leonard didn't appear to hear, but Sharon repeated it to him, and he looked kind of embarassed, as if he didn't know what to say. But he had a HUGE grin.
5. Anthem: as well as the reference to the bushfires, LC also gave a much more casual version of his intro ... "This is our last concert here in Australia. It's been such a great and warm and hospitable experience. It's been a long time since I stood up on the stage ... was about ... (pause) ... it's longer all the time". The list of antidepressents was also delivered with a bit more casual wit also .. he even added Tylenol to the end
6. I Tried To Leave You: was again performed without the second verse.
7. Closing blessing: Leonard gave quite a long version of his closing address, thanking an even more extensive list of crew than usual. He thanked the woman who takes care of their hats "when we're not wearing them ... which is vary rarely." Also he poured praise upon Paul Kelly who he labelled "truly a national treasure".
8. LC began his very final closing message with "Until next we meet ..." which should be enough to give us antipodean fans some hope for a future visit