CONCERT REPORT: Swan Valley, February 7

New Zealand and Australia (January 20 - February 10, 2009). Concert reports, set lists, photos, media coverage, multimedia links, recollections...
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Greg Ross
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CONCERT REPORT: Swan Valley, February 7

Post by Greg Ross » Sat Feb 07, 2009 8:14 pm

Salutations people

It's late (2.00 in the morning), too tired to write a review, will try tomorrow eve, in the meantime, here's three photos from the stunning concert. If you'd like to see more (probably another 40 or so, I'll post them on my Blog site later this (Sunday) morning. The address is: They'll be in an album called "LEONARD COHEN CONCERT."

The night was pure magic.
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Re: Photos from the West Australian Concert (7th Feb)

Post by Cangura » Sun Feb 08, 2009 4:06 pm

Thanks so much for sharing these photos! You've really captured the smoky nightclub feel of the concert. What a night!
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Greg Ross
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Sandalford Concert Review (Sat 7th February 2009)

Post by Greg Ross » Sun Feb 08, 2009 5:35 pm

In the past five decades, I’ve been privileged to attend some fabulous concerts – from the sublime (Pavarotti) to the surreal – the Rolling Stones and Roy Orbison singing together with Gene Pitney playing organ. I’ve been to concerts vowing never to watch the artist again (Bob Dylan and Tom Petty). But I have never experienced anything like the Leonard Cohen concert at Sandalford last Saturday night.

Now integrity demands full disclosure, I am a fan – well, a Cohen tragic really - since buying his first LP for five pound nineteen and six pence, back in 1967. I still have it. I long ago discovered that I inevitably tested new friends with Cohen’s music when first they would visit my home, (wherever that has been over the years). And as a result, I’ve slowly established an eclectic, disparate group of friends who also love the words and melodies of the man from Montreal. Consequently, last Saturday afternoon, almost 50 of us climbed aboard a chartered charabanc and were chauffeured out to the vineyard.

First a brickbat and one I suspect should be thrown at the Liquor Licensing bureaucracy, rather than the winery. One could only purchase one bottle of wine at a time, consequently there were constant huge queues of people shaking their heads in disgust at the stupidity of it all. For God’s sake, we all set up picnics then one of us goes to get the wine. Hello? How simple is it? We really are the most stupidly over-governed State. Back to the music – well no – drop that bottle off and go back in another queue, which segues into the support act, Paul Kelly

I am shocked (and more than a little ashamed) to admit that such was the single mindedness of many of us, we sat in the shade and picnicked, whilst we took turns at queuing for wine and consequently ignored one of Australia’s greatest-ever singer- songwriters – Paul Kelly. Normally I will go out of my way to attend his concerts, but his presence almost failed to register with me.

Suddenly 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, the band strolled on to the stage and then the Fedora skipped out. I looked around, there were tears welling in people eyes as far as my own moist eyes could see, as they waved and cheered, then we truly had a music.

There is often a religious undercurrent to most of what Cohen writes and it struck me when at one stage, he mentioned he’d spent considerable time studying the different religious philosophies of the world, but in the end, cheerfulness had won out, this event was almost spiritual. He has a line in the song “Light as a Breeze”“drink deeply pilgrim” … we were.

It would not be wrong to say that the crowd was quietly worshipping a man they never thought they would ever see perform live, after all he’s 74. But here he was skipping impossibly around and on and off the stage, dropping to his knees in supplication to a subject, or bowing gracefully to the glorious voiced Sharon Robinson (his muse) and the other incredibly talented people surrounding him.

And the voice, it’s not possible, but somehow it’s better than it ever was, in fact it’s now quite hard to listen to the first couple of albums, that youthful voice now seems reedy and lacking in depth. The years of experience, smoke and wine, have combined to produce a voice that would not be out of place giving some sermon on the mount. Yet at the same time, there is lightness and humour that just grabs your soul.

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that his is technically a fine voice, in the mode of a Frank Sinatra, or a Pavarotti, but it has depth, structure, phrasing, passion and an understanding of each word that burns. And yes, the female singers are vital instruments in any Cohen equation. There was a moment with his song, “If It Be Your Will,” that was spellbinding. Cohen recited one or two verses, then the Webb Sisters began to sing, accompanying themselves on acoustic guitar and harp. I don’t know to this moment where they took that work, but 5,000 hushed people moved not a muscle while this extraordinary performance took place.

Then there’s the band. Now Sandalford is notorious for the wind that channels off the river and often ruins the sound, at times, it can be almost as bad as the disastrous Burswood Dome. Bands often compensate by playing too loudly, but these guys were beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed, in terms of audible clarity – nothing was loud, but everything was crystal clear. I laughed, thinking of Jimmy Barnes at the Kimberley Moon Concert in Kununurra last year, where painful distortion ruined his show.

It’s trite to say you had to be there to understand , but it is true. This group of musos and their sound techs have mastered the black art of amplified music past the ephemeral point where any other band I have ever seen has managed to go. This is one band that could play with West Australian Symphony Orchestra and not try to drown it.

It’s a little pointless to go on about Cohen’s clarity and diction, as 99% of the crown knew every word by heart anyhow. Every person there had a favourite, although undoubtedly “Hallelujah” was a massive crowd pleaser. I love them all, but a personal favourite, one I have loved seemingly forever, is “The Partisan.” Sung in English and French, it tells the story of a resistance member on the run as the Nazis swept across Europe.

And therein is the magic of Cohen’s music, reaching out,as a voice of hope for our troubled world, when he sang out his prophetic words, “Democracy is coming to the USA,” a tremendous cheer rang out from the crowd. Amongst my treasured friends that might, was an American diplomat. I can’t talk for that person, but it seemed to me the crowd was welcoming the US back from the wilderness – there’s that spirituality again.

Another lovely friend is German, she and her daughter love Cohen and were in tears of joy for much of the concert. We sat and talked and realised that many years ago, thousands of kilometres apart and continents away, we had both been teenagers, spell bound with Cohen’s magic and here we were 40 years later, still spellbound, still emotionally blown away by this impish, humble little poet, who took 5,000 people on a mythical, impossible feast of music, imagery and artistry on an unforgettable summers night.

There was a quiet elephant in the room. Dazed, yet somehow complete, we walked slowly away after his three hour concert – yes, 74 years of age and three hours! – knowing that he probably will not pass this way again.

A New Zealand reviewer wrote a couple of weeks back, that it was quite simply the best concert he had ever seen in his life. Something he never thought he’d write, or would write again. His statement made me slightly nervous, high expectations can be difficult to uphold. But I will go further than he. Not only was it the best concert I have ever seen in my life, I feel humbly blessed.
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Re: Sandalford Concert Review (Sat 7th February 2009)

Post by flopearedmule » Sun Feb 08, 2009 10:55 pm

Beautifully done, Greg. I've been happy to read of how many other people couldn't keep from crying -- glad I wasn't the only one!

From memory they had the same alochol restriction at Bowral? We were up the front and didn't dare move lest we missed something so we didn't go get any grog but I think I read that. So maybe its a DOTG thing generally.

Only one more show to go. I think Melbourne on Tuesday will be particularly emotional, given events.
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by Trenton J » Mon Feb 09, 2009 1:48 am

Bravo, Greg. What a magnificent description of a magical night out west...

And thanks for sharing the photo's!

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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by NickShears » Mon Feb 09, 2009 6:22 am

Thanks for your eloquent and moving words, Greg, and fine photos to go with them.
London 1979, London 1983, London 1988, Brisbane 2009
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by Lizzy-beth » Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:12 pm

Hi Greg,
Really enjoyed your review of Saturday evening's concert - and reminiscing a little!! It was a wonderful experience....I guess you read the review in today's West Australian, which I thought captured the magic as well..... yet another happy customer - DEFINITELY "FOOD FOR THE SOUL"
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by devadeborah » Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:41 pm

Hi Greg, I just have to say that i agree with everything you have said, i have just spent one of the most amazing nights with a friend who I havent seen for 35 years, and the night was divine and magical and seriously one of the happiest experiences of my life. I couldnt stop smiling and literally keening, everyone was ecstatic , Ive been blissed ever since. It felt like such a pouring of love and presence, thank you for putting words to a night that was beautiful beyond words... Mr Cohen I kiss the air that you breathe...and the earth that you walk...Thank you :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by MuellerM » Tue Feb 10, 2009 3:21 am

Leonard Cohen: Concert Review.

I’ve seen some very fine concerts in my time. In fact, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have seen some very fine concerts this past month. On January 20, I saw Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds perform at the Belvoir Amphitheatre. This was the third time I’ve seen Nick Cave, and the third time that he was excellent.
I also went to the Big Day Out to see Neil Young. This was an extraordinary experience, where the sheer depth and breadth of sound emanating (primarily) from “Old Black”, Neil’s 1953 Gibson, took my breath away. I remember spending a great deal of this concert grinning like an idiot. I’d waited nearly fifteen years to see Neil Young. He did not disappoint. Seeing songs like “Cowgirl in the Sand”, “The Needle and Damage Done” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” performed with power and passion by their creator is not an experience I’ll soon forget.

I never even dreamt of seeing Leonard Cohen. Prior to last year, Cohen hadn’t toured since 1993, and even then, toured only in Europe and North America. The notion that, at age seventy-four, he might undertake a tour of this magnitude was fanciful at best. So, the fact that he not only toured, but performed regular concerts close to three hours in length of the most magical quality seemed an intrusion into reality from the world of dreams.

For three hours on Sunday, I got to experience that dream.

Leonard Cohen is not possessed of what many would call a great singing voice. His own wonderful song from 1988, “Tower of Song” includes the dryly intoned quip that “[He] was born with the gift of a golden voice.” As ironic as that sentiment was intended to be, I can’t think of a better way to describe the sound that simply floods forth when Cohen opens his mouth. It is deep, dark, brooding, gleeful, truthful, sad and free. It is bigger and blacker than even Johnny Cash, and makes Nick Cave – possessor of another of music’s great non-voices – sound like a nine year old boy by comparison. Cohen intones his lyrics, cushioned with extremely talented backing vocalists and virtuoso musicians playing finely tuned arrangements in a style that is simply spell-binding.

There are times, certainly, when Cohen’s singing is little more than speaking. But great voices have a harmonious intent that makes for so much more than ordinary words said aloud. In the same way that the right combination of words and voice can stop one dead in one’s tracks – such as Sir Ian McKellen reciting King Lear – so too can Cohen mesmerize audiences with his rumbling ruminations. The voice here is key, but so too are the words. Good thing then that in the history of popular music, as a lyricist, Leonard Cohen is simply as good as it gets.

Although nowhere near as prolific as Bob Dylan or Neil Young, Cohen’s lyrics are breathtaking examples of wisdom carefully crafted into art. Songs such as “Bird on a Wire”, “Halleluiah” and “The Future” are as tellingly arch and pointed as anything written in the last fifty years. To see these songs performed live by their creator – a man in the twilight of his career but with his gifts fully intact – is probably going to go down as the greatest musical experience of my life.

On route to the gig, we thought there had likely been some kind of accident, given the huge build up of traffic on the road. It didn’t take long to ascertain that these were all patrons on their way to see Leonard Cohen. Once we were there the marvellous choice of the Sandalford winery as venue for the concert became apparent. Firstly, it enabled Cohen to be savoured in the context of vines, wines (sparkling) and from an inclined position on low chairs. (This was never going to be an opportunity for crowd surfing.) The expansive grounds for the concert were full of excited onlookers of all ages, some who likely had very little knowledge of Cohen and his music, along with many others who’d probably waited decades for tonight’s experience.

There were two very fine support acts. Augie March played an acoustic set (of which sadly we missed a good deal) that directed audience attention to the voice and songwriting of Glenn Richards. He doesn’t disappoint. Possessed of light but incisively phrased vocal style, he sings wonderful lyrics rich in poetic imagery that feel distinctly Australian, without ever resorting to clichéd words or themes. His is a band whose career will continue to be noted with great interest.

Augie March was followed by Paul Kelly, who impressed very much despite a few early audio problems, where the volume level for his voice was far too low. Kelly is one of the finest songwriters this country has produced, and songs like “To Her Door” and “Deeper Water” (both played) are master classes in the art of telling story through song. His final song – an a cappella rendering of “Meet Me in the Middle of the Air”, a song based directly on Psalm 23 was stunning. It is a risky and difficult task to adapt such established words and images into a contemporary song, but Kelly has done so with considerable poise, and without any sense of vanity. His is a slight voice, but what it lacks in range or richness of timbre, it more than assuages with its expressive sincerity. I wonder though what it must have felt like for genuinely talented songwriters like Richards and Kelly to offer support for one of the greatest of all time. An honour? Daunting? I’d love to know.

When Cohen finally took to the stage, it was to rapturous applause. Impeccably dressed in suit and hat but sans tie, he bounded across the stage with energy that belied his years. And then he sang. Any fears that time may have weakened or withered his smoky double-bass baritone quickly evaporated. His voice was as warm and wryly expressive as ever. If anything, it is better now than it was thirty years ago. It’s certainly deeper, and he when he allows his voice to climb to the top of his – at least half an octave range – a beautiful and powerful vibrato – a mark of actual singing – lifts the emotional resonance of his delivery even higher.

This was especially notable on his impassioned delivery of “Bird on a Wire” and in “Halleluiah”, a song of simply dazzling craft and imagery. That a song of this calibre has somehow become a global anthem give this citizen some hope for humanity. Not since The Beatles has such ability been so widely and publicly celebrated. (In the spirit of good will, I’m prepared to set aside the fact that too many in the UK have embraced the song its inferior cover-version form. At least Jeff Buckley got it right.)

Cohen opened with “Dance Me to the End of Love” and then proceeded through a great deal of his back catalogue, from his 1969 debut through to 2004’s Dear Heather. There are too many highlights to allow for all to be mentioned, but several still stand out.

The title track from Cohen’s 1993 album The Future was delivered brilliantly, with Cohen intoning its apocalyptic synopsis of the world with a mixture of grimness and delight. So many of his lyrics occupy that febrile middle ground between darkness and wonder, where the saddest subjects reveal in their telling, the warmth and wonder of true humanity. Plus, it’s impossible not to love a song that demands “give me Christ or give me Hiroshima.”

As well as the extraordinary highs of “Bird on a Wire” and “Halleluiah”, songs such as “Suzanne” were also fabulous to hear. Cohen’s songs can seen extremely bleak in certain contexts, but in the setting of a concert, their fraught introspection is suddenly transformed into an anthemic celebration of love and longing that unites audiences, rather than isolate the scattered individuals within. I supposed that is one of music’s enduring gifts; to empower and connect people.

Cohen played acoustic guitar very sparingly and keyboards just the once, on a wryly child-like solo in the middle of “Tower of Song”, surely one of the great homage to the craft and the muse ever written. Too see a man of his songwriting abilities carefully pick out a plinky-plonky monophonic solo on a tiny, tinny keyboard was simply glorious. The song pays great respect to Hank Williams; one of the giants of song in the first half of the twentieth century. Cohen is at the very least his equal, if not now his superior.

He was also surprisingly animate throughout, often (via the big screen) singing with fists clenched and eyes closed, even dropping to his knees at moments of great intensity. Somehow this gesture, both showy and devout seemed incredibly appropriate, given the cabaret stylings of his band, and the burning intensity to his measured orisons.

At the end of each song, Cohen would remove his hat and smile in acknowledgement of the elated response from the crowd. “Thank you, friends” was more often than not, his only response. But he did take the time to thank his extremely capable band on two distinct occasions. And worthy of thanks they were. From flute, harmonica, lap steel, bouzouki, guitars, assorted keyboards, double bass and even a gong, the sound was expertly realised and immaculately amplified. The sound quality throughout was as good as any concert I’ve heard.

Cohen also told several short anecdotes. At one point, he listed about fifteen anti-depressants that he’d tried, as well as noting that he’d experimented with immersing himself in the world’s great religions, but, try as he might, “cheerfulness kept breaking through.” It is no wonder that he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Three hours at several encores later, it was over. The audience was on its feet for what seemed the third or fourth standing ovation of the night. And Leonard Cohen was gone. But for those precious three hours, all in attendance had the privilege of one of the great songwriters of the age giving his damndest to ensure we all had an unforgettable night. He succeeded spectacularly.

Cheers, Lennie. God Bless.
Trenton J
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by Trenton J » Tue Feb 10, 2009 4:43 am

Beautifully said, Lennie.

How lucky are those to be in attendance tonight, Tuesday, for quite possibly the last time in Australasia...?

I'll be there in spirit....
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by Luke Arron » Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:29 pm

Hello all,

This is my first post here. I have only recently become a fan of Leonard -- for more or less a year now -- being a twenty-five year old, so I am staggered by my good fortune in discovering the man's music just at the right time to catch this unlikely tour. I was at this show about 15 rows from the stage, and I can't think of another experience in my life that comes close.

I'm from Adelaide and had bought a ticket to the show there. In the week leading up to the show I was terribly distracted by anticipation. On the day before the concert, I went online to look for a review of one of the earlier Australian shows, and discovered the totally gutting news that I had mixed up the date and missed the concert by two days. Everybody who has been to one of these shows knows the feeling of absolute exhilaration and joy it brings -- well, that feeling inverted captures the depression I felt at finding out I'd missed my only opportunity to see Leonard Cohen.

However, after an embarrassing hour of near-breakdown I gathered myself together and jumped online for about four hours, after which I had a seat on a flight, a charter bus, and a fine seat at a winery about twenty-five metres away from the man. I've never spent so much money I can't afford with so little regret -- what's a few hundred dollars when you're getting a night you're the memory of which will warm you for years to come?

I couldn't say what the highlight of the night was, but The Future and The Partisan both struck me with particular force, and Who By Fire (with so much brought to it by Javier Mas) being another high point. But I think the song that touched me most was the Webb Sister's rendition of If It Be Your Will ... that was one of those moments where you just forget who you are or where you are, where you've come from. It was just beautiful.

So again, I just can't believe my good fortune. I could just as easily have discovered all those remarkable songs a year later -- after reading a review of this concert, for example -- and missed out on three hours of magic.

One last thing ... when I flew into Perth I saw an outdoor amphitheater move past below, and I thought 'I wonder if that's where I'll see Leonard'. Yes, it was.
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Re: Swan Valley, Sandalford Wines, Feb 7

Post by MaryB » Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:59 pm

You have to be either a journalist/writer and/or a musician to have provided us with such an extensive, knowledgeable, and beautifully written account of this concert! I was there with you (in spirit) every step of the way. Thank you so much!
Kindest regards,
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