Sunday, 8 September 2013

Dance me to the end of love

And to the new Leeds Arena for my first visit. I was suitably impressed and that wasn't just because I got a seat upgrade; the door staff obviously recognising in me a man of some distinction. The sight lines were good and the sound was really excellent. I've sat through many concerts, particularly going back a couple of decades, ruined by muddy and indistinct acoustics, but this was crystal clear. One problem at many public venues is the huge queues for the ladies while there are none for the gents. The arena deals with this by having an inadequate number of toilets for either sex, thereby ensuring equality of wait time.


When the building of the arena was first mooted I was rather cynical, wondering whether Leeds was large enough to attract big names to perform. Well, now it's open and the first three concerts have been by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Leonard Cohen; evidence, in case further proof were needed, that I don't know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, Cohen was simply brilliant - seven stars out of five at least. From the opening 'Dance Me to the End of Love' through three hours to the final encore of 'Closing Time' his charm and charisma were astonishing. Obviously he doesn't sing terribly well in any normal sense (when in 'Tower of Song' he reaches the line 'I was born with the gift of a golden voice' the audience erupts in a manner reminiscent of the point on the 'Before the Flood' album when Dylan sings 'even the president of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked') , but compensates in any number of ways. The words are, as they have always been, at the centre of the performance; indeed on a couple of occasions lyrics are declaimed as poetry over the most minimal of musical backing.

'Everyone knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich stay rich
That's how it goes
Everyone knows'
And, as you would if you were him, he surrounds himself with top class musicians from places as diverse as Moldova, Mexico and Catalonia. And then there's the timbre of the voice. I haven't heard anything so deep since the occasion when I found myself sharing a hotel in Casablanca with the Red Army Choir. You don't so much hear it as feel the reverberations.

I need one of those hats

So, a great experience, both the location and, most of all, the man. He's knocking on a bit - a subject that he frequently jokes about - so catch him while you can.

'I loved you when our love was blessed
I love you now there's nothing left
But closing time'

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