Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leonard Cohen in the Southern Vales

Following the lead of Laura from Sills Bend, I am not going to say too much about the content of the concert, in order not to spoil it for people who have yet to see it. But here are some things I learned.

-- Ten musicians who can all hold the stage individually can also merge seamlessly into one breathtaking performance.

-- It is possible to perform for almost three hours, with a lot of physical activity including kneeling and effortlessly getting up again, and for some of which you have been looking straight into the setting sun, even if you are seventy-four years old.

-- It is possible to be seventy-four years old and neither decrepit nor in any other way out of date. Au contraire in spades: Cohen's knees, fingers and memory all seem to be in perfect working order, and his voice is utterly engaging and compelling -- musical and beautiful still, as well as charismatic. The ears are an erogenous zone, what can I say.

-- Rehearsal is a beautiful thing, especially when all ten of you are artists enough to inject passion and spontaneity into music that you have prepared and rehearsed to a hair's breadth.

There's one song I really do want to single out, though. 'The Partisan' was one of my favourites back in 1970. Apart from loving the song for its own virtues, I loved it that a Jewish Canadian from bilingual Montreal who had his fifth birthday a few weeks after World War 2 broke out should write such a song, with so deep a knowledge in it of war, and of western Europe, and of the French language, in which some of this song is sung, and most of all of being hunted and haunted and steadily resisting:

There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
But I must go on

On the original recording, if memory serves, there's just him and his guitar, possibly plus the little chorus of angel voices he has favoured all through his long career. Last night, though, it was ten brilliant musicians whipping up a perfect storm: its dark imagery and driving beat brought to mind the word duende, about which Alison Croggon did so brilliant a post, with reference to Paul Capsis, at Sarsaparilla some time ago [will link to that as soon as Sars is contactable ... No, wait, here it is at Alison's own blog Theatre Notes]. And here's Christopher Maurer, courtesy of Wikipedia:

... at least four elements can be isolated in Lorca's vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical. The duende is a demonic earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence ... who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps him create and communicate memorable, spine-chilling art. The duende is seen, in Lorca's lecture, as an alternative to style, to mere virtuosity, to God-given grace and charm (what Spaniards call 'angel'), and to the classical, artistic norms dictated by the muse. Not that the artist simply surrenders to the duende; he or she has to battle it skillfully, 'on the rim of the well,' in 'hand-to-hand combat.' To a higher degree than the muse or the angel, the duende seizes not only the performer but also the audience, creating conditions where art can be understood spontaneously with little, if any, conscious effort. It is, in Lorca's words, 'a sort of corkscrew that can get art into the sensibility of an audience...

Landscape and weather, taken as the queue inched forward, glacierlike, at Leconfield Wines as they searched everyone's bags before they let us in. If only it had been glacierlike in other ways. You can see how hot it was from the depth of blue in that sky.

The heroic Glenn Richards from Augie March, on whom some kind punter took pity and bestowed the hat. For reasons best known to themselves, the promoters had set up the stage facing due west, and the sun went down in a white and blinding blaze of heat. 'My hair is melting,' said Richards plaintively, not long before the hat donation. They were great.

Paul Kelly had been warned to wear his cap and sunnies so came prepared. His nephew Dan Kelly did likewise, in a shirt that matched his uncle's hat and Leonard's giant muse backdrop. They were great, too.

First sighting of Leonard.

This guitarist is from Bareclona. He was sitting in a capacious and luxurious fuchsia-coloured chair. I like the way he appears here to be bumping the muse's giant but shapely and diaphanously draped breast with his head. Leonard played to, with and off him all night, often kneeling as he sang to be on eye level.

Leonard's years in a Buddhist monastery showed very clearly, in the spareness of his disciplined frame and the relaxed stillness of his body when standing back and listening to the other musicians. Obviously some of this is pure showmanship but I have never seen the Buddhist notion of 'mindfulness' acted out in such a protracted, exposed and practised way.

After performing for about an hour, Leonard and the band took a break. By now the sun was well down and there was a dishevelled, festive, heat-drunk air about the crowd that made us look like a downmarket Antipodean 21st century version of Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Leonard and his 'angels'.

'Famous Blue Raincoat.'


fifi said...

How utterly wonderful!!

ps can I be allowed back on your blogroll?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Heh! Dunno if you saw the post about the lost blogroll, Fifi, but I am restoring the links one or two at a time. I will put you back as soon as Dokic v Safin is finished ...

fifi said...

haha, I must have been away...no worries.

M-H said...

Thanks so much. Lovely.

Ampersand Duck said...

That was a fantastic recounting. Boo hiss to the west-facing stage, what idiots!

I'm a big fan of Dan Kelly, who is a lot like his uncle but different enough to be doing his own excellent things. I have just discovered Ben Taylor, sprog of James & Carly, and he is also spookily similar but excellently different.

Pavlov's Cat said...

&D -- I love the sprog thing, it fascinates me. I was a fan of the McGarrigles AND Loudon Wainwright III back when Rufus was a baby so watching Martha and Rufus eat up the stage here (on the Cohen tour) a couple of years ago was amazing. And did you know that Cohen's boy Adam and Stephen Stills' boy Chris were in a band together for a while?

And yes, Dan Kelly was really good.

frog said...

I find myself suddenly wishing for tickets and Leonard Cohen's entire back catalogue.

lucy tartan said...

The stage faced more or less west in Healesville, too, but tall trees screened out the worst of the sun.

ThirdCat said...

ah, excellent.
Wish I could've been there. Although all I would've done is sob and blubber, which is disrespectful to the time and money such things take.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Saw him in Auckland last week. Sublime. I so agree that the Buddhism really showed. I felt that I learned something, as well as having a damn good time.

Elsewhere007 said...

My heart leapt at the words 'first sighting of Leonard', but then I realised it was only LC.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, El, I've thought of you and the dear departed more than once over the last week or so as the blogosphere and the meeja continue ring with praise of 'Leonard'. Great cats never die.

I'm interested (btw) to see how many people around the place -- well, women at least -- are reporting sobbing and blubbering. I admit to sobbing and blubbering only once, when he said (clearly part of the standard patter, but fair enough) 'It's a privilege to perform here in this peaceful country.' There was a little silence and then a bit of murmuring and then people started to clap. In his own quiet way, he was saying we don't know how lucky we are.

Amanda said...

I have a data point on this for you, P. I started crying in the first song and barely stopped.

I hope to write it up tomorrow or so.

The Peahen said...

The Partisan wasn't actually written by l cohen. I think it was a popular French folk song written after the war. I'm pretty sure there are song writing credits for other people on his album notes.

The Peahen said...

Fantastic song though. I guess he did do the English translation. Sorry for the nitpicking. He was wonderful in Sydney too!

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, Peahen, like a number of his songs it's based on something else. The French he's singing is the original folk(?)song. But the song as written and sung in English is what he's made of it. 'Alexandra Leaving' is a riff on a Cavafy poem which draws on Shakespeare who drew on Plutarch, about Bacchus abandoning Mark Antony in Alexandria the night before a battle. And 'there is a crack in everything' is a quotation from Emerson, but it was Cohen who added the lovely optimistic rider 'That's how the light gets in.' I think he's just one of those writers whose subjects include other writing.

Amanda, looking forward v much to your post.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Comments crossed there, Peahen. I didn't think you were nitpicking -- it's one of the most interesting things about his songs, the way he reworks earlier songs and poems and stories.

Amanda said...

Cheryl Kernot rang into ABC Sydney radio this morning and she too cried. We are legion!

Nick said...

Cheers PC. I bought my mum and stepdad tickets to the Leconfield show for Christmas. They had a ball and were completely spellbound by Leonard - but didn't take any photos. Very happy to finally have a visual of the day.

Spent an enjoyable few hours yesterday reading Lorca and listening to I'm Your Man. I think I replayed Take This Waltz four or five times :)