Home > Uncategorized > The Wonder of Leonard Cohen – Halloween 2012 Austin

The Wonder of Leonard Cohen – Halloween 2012 Austin

More than half the Leonard Cohen Band at Cactus Cafe the night before a two-show stand in Austin

Bob Kinney Words & Photos

Listening to Leonard Cohen’s first album in 1967 was one of the top Epiphany Moments I experienced during the mid to late Sixties. His poetic words appealed to the young writer in me – his unique voice flowed from deeply guttural to softly lilting – and, he always gathered literally world-class musicians and gifted – and beautiful – women to complement his singing like jazz singer Julie Christensen formerly of Austin.

I have been a Leonard fan for almost five decades but never got to see him in person until the mid 1980s when he played the original Backyard west of Austin after he did Austin City Limits. During the show, a siren grew louder as it approached us and Leonard and band stopped midway through the song they were performing. For the next 90 seconds, Leonard led us on a trail of imagination and wonder – What did someone do to light up a police car in the night?  As the siren faded away, he and his band picked up exactly where they left, finished the song and went on to the next.

The Sublime Webb Sisters – Hattie and Charley – guitar

Thirty years later, I experienced Leonard at the new Long Center in Austin. Each song brought spiritual exhilaration, tears or smiles. The “Leonard Cohen Live in London” documentary film is a replica of Cohen’s Spring 2009 Austin show – same musicians and set list.

Touring now on his superlative new “Old Ideas” album, Leonard and Band finished the European first part of Tour 2012 three weeks ago and started the American tour here – as he did in Spring 2009.

Austin folks – Roscoe Beck bass & band leader and Mitch Watkins

I came to the show after being infused by a Leonard Cohen Love Fest that took place at the Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus – a short walk from the concert site Bass Concert Hall – on Tuesday Oct 30. The 90-minute show was a nice mix of talking about Leonard and playing some songs. Two Austinites – Roscoe Beck (bass and band director) and Mitch Watkins (guitar) – and four other band musicians joined Singers Sharon Robinson and the Sublime Webb Sisters Charley and Hattie – onstage to talk about what it is like performing with Leonard. They were joined onstage by Sylvie Simmons, author of the recently published Cohen biography “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.”

Sylvie Simmons talks about her new Leonard biography – “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen”

Bob Kinney Words & Photos

I was truly blessed to be in the sold-out audience the next night – Halloween – seated right next to the soundboard in the Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas for an evening that was All Treats with No Tricks.

Except for Watkins, the band and backup singers were the same that infused the Long Center in 2009. After energetically skipping onto the stage, 78-year-old Leonard noted “This may be the last time we are together … so we are going to give it all to you tonight.” Three-plus hours later, I can testify that Leonard and Band certainly did that.

Move over James Brown – Leonard now wears the hallowed cape of the Hardest Working Man in Show Business – but this time the King wears a trademark Fedora (made by Stetson) that complements a classic gentleman’s suit – just as all band members wear – most with a Fedora too.

Sharon brought the Webb Sisters into Leonard’s band in Los Angeles

I enjoyed a center seat where the 10-member band could be clearly seen from a distance and two huge screens showed close-up onstage shots – Cohen elegantly punctuating his words with supple fingers, often kneeling as if in prayer, next to the softly rhythmic bodies that nicely enhanced his singing which was surrounded by the deft musician touches of wire on wood, Hammond 3 keyboards and a variety of drums.

The sound and stage lighting also was superb. Stage lights to the left and right below Leonard casts two of his shadows onto the stage’s back curtain. Nice touch indeed.

The show mix featured some songs from “Old Ideas” and a hefty dose of Leonard Oldies sung as fresh as ever.

As intermission approached, Leonard moved in front of each band member, doffed his Fedora in Tribute, elegantly bowed, and spoke words of appreciation for each stage mate – and then went on to introduce the sound and lighting folks, as well as stagehands – including home countries of all from throughout the world. Leonard’s gentlemanly gestures simply spoke – We Are Family.

Drummer Rafael Gayer first met Leonard at a Norwegian metal fest years ago. Cohen had taken his 13-year-old daughter to the show because she liked Rafael’s band. Years later Rafael joined the Cohen Band.

The second half opened with Tower of Song that epitomized the perfect match between the voices of Leonard and Sharon with the Webb Sisters followed by the iconic Suzanne that opened his Songs of Leonard Cohen 1966 debut album that I still enjoy listening to on my original vinyl stereo record.

Midway through the second half I realized that the 10-member band sounded as intense as a classical orchestra three times its size. The Webb Sisters than formed a trio with Roscoe Beck to play their Coming Back to You song with gestures that matched voices. Sharon  then sang her heart-felt Alexandria Leaving with the Webb Sisters joining in towards its end.

As the folks around me were moving their heads and shoulders in rhythm with each song being played, the second half ended with the same Leonard introduction of each person as closed the first half.

Three encores followed – Marianne & First We Take Berlin … then Famous Blue Raincoat and Going Home … and finishing with Closing Time and then – an iconic and heartfelt final song – Save The Last Dance For Me.

As the encores were being played the close-up shots of Leonard seemed to show his face growing younger with each song – matching eventually Frank Sinatra in his prime.

I left the show spiritually and physically exhausted and infused with the wonder of Leonard Cohen and his Band. Hope to see you at least once again.

Austin American-Statesman insightful music writer Brad Buchholz’s  Profile of Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen set list October 31 2012

Nice Leonard Cohen website with MP3 Cactus Cafe recordings by Allan Showalter

Bob Kinney Words & Photos

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