"That’s what you get when your audience is on the affluent side, good chips."
Leonard Cohen – Westerpark, Amsterdam 12/07/08
It’s not often Incendiary go to events like this, maybe it was the surreal thought of seeing the original bedroom angst merchant securing his pension in a sanitised, ever so semi corporate open-air event such as this. Or maybe it was a mate’s birthday and he’d got a ticket for us. Whatever… Incendiary’s initial forebodings about going to an event of this sort were reinforced by the weather, which hadn’t been up to much good the previous days. The ever-present threat of rain made the whole thing feel like a day at the Test Match in Manchester. But spirits were lifted by the excellent beer token policy (can’t drink ‘em, get ‘em refunded) and the stunningly good chips on offer (real ones, not the cardboardy potato mash re-heats). That’s what you get when your audience is on the affluent side, good chips.
Still, it would be unfair to continue quibbling. What you can definitely say about Leonard Cohen live is that he can deliver; in spades. Entering stage-left at the head of an eight-piece band, Cohen wasted no time in delivering his deadpan, ever so slightly sarcastic repertoire, initially (or so it seemed) entirely drawn from his 1992 LP, The Future. Stunning renditions of The Future, Anthem and Democracy set the pace nicely. The whole thing began to smack of an intimate bar-room gig, what with the 1940s-style suits and the fedoras the band wore, and the weary air of resignation his songs seemed to invoke. How he managed to pull this intimate feeling off in the middle of an open air stadium must bear some testament to his genius.
Of course mention Leonard Cohen and two songs spring to mind; Suzanne and Halellujah. Both were present and both received rapturous applause. Maybe it’s the realisation that it was extremely unlikely that Cohen would ever get the chance to sing them to a Dutch audience again. But to be fair they were both great renditions, Hallelujah being especially magnificent; Cohen’s understated delivery doing the song’s structures and message far more justice than Jeff Buckley’s celebrated but oh so sickly-sweet take. And we got Tower of Song and a stupendous version of Bird on the Wire, so no complaints there, either.
After the interval, the audience was grooving mildly along, the sun shone intermittently and all was well with the world. Surely that was that, we’d get a short surmise and he’d be off. But it wasn’t. Fair play to the man, he might be 73, but the gig went on for a good 2 hours plus, including three encores (including a magnificent If It Be Your Will where vocal duties were taken over by the Webb Sisters) and a lot of hat-doffing to the crowd. Oh, and a lot of introducing his band at every solo (which got a bit grating, if only he’d added more information rather than the bloody name, a star sign or favourite colour for instance). Still, by the end of proceedings a crowd had been wooed and Cohen must have felt his muse more than vindicated.
Words: Richard Foster
Photo: Matthew Morris