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Live Reviews

Leonard Cohen in Belgrade

By Published: September 27, 2009
For some of us one of the highlights definitely was Javier Mas and his army of instruments. This master musician from Barcelona played on a variety of instruments: bandurria, laud, archilaud, and 12-string guitar. No wonder Cohen calls him "shepherd of the strings." His gypsy soul gave a different flavor to the magnificence of these precious gems. The Arabian-sounding 12-string-guitar intro to "Who by Fire" was breathtaking, as he demonstrated extraordinary virtuosity with sounds intricately woven into a beautiful tapestry.

"I'm Your man" was one of the best-received songs of the night, its lyrics provoking one of many standing ovations: "If you want a lover, Ill do anything you ask me to, And if you want another kind of love, Ill wear a mask for you, If you want a partner, Take my hand, Or if you want to strike me down in anger, Here I stand, I'm your man." It is no secret that he has always relied on or was inspired by the benevolence of women.

In a live setting most of his songs take on a gospel-like feeling, creating something sacred, something akin to a ceremony. "Tower of Song" is one song like that, as is "Hallelujah." But, what really matters is the fire with which he sings these songs: "Well, there was a time when you let me know, what's really going on below, but now you never show that to me do you, but remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too/ and every breath we drew was Hallelujah."

Again, Cohen's voice is an instrument of singular beauty, its timbre having the resonance that can rend the very fabric of the universe. When it dips and soars, it's magnificent. "Tower of Song" has that voice weaving round a simple keyboard accompaniment, singing: "Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey, I ache in the places where I used to play, And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on, I'm just paying my rent every day, Oh in the tower of song." Definitely he caught his audience by surprise with the level of passion, verve and grace that he exuded.

The show went on and on with the same great spirit—just an endless procession of excellent songs: "First We Take Manhattan," "Closing Time," "So Long Marianne," "Wither You Goest." Can anyone think of another musician of that age or other bands and musicians beyond that age group capable of doing a concert three and a half hours long (not including the pause in the middle)? Armed with his songs he constantly moved all across the stage, occasionally dropping on his knee, or both, in front of the audience. At times, especially during the encores, he would hop after each song with a grin on his face.

In recent years, the world to a degree caught up with Cohen. Generations of performers, from U2 to Nick Cave to Sting, still borrow heavily from his florid poetry. Cohen wrote many songs that were covered by a myriad of musicians in recent times. There are excellent tribute albums by many of today's popular singers and musicians. But when hearing Cohen singing his compositions, one gets the message that these are his songs and that the others are just borrowing them.

To be doing what he is doing at this point is about ensuring continuity between the past and the present, and forging a path into the future. Why should people have to stop doing what they love at a certain point because of age or a good financial situation? Over the years, people like Neil Young, Cohen or Dylan and others have been constantly reinventing the answer. Their work and their lives are love letters to consistency. After the fourth encore, Cohen ended the concert by thanking the audience for keeping his songs alive and stating that it was an honor to be performing for them.

The entire evening along with the concert itself were blessed. That night at the Arena was a beautiful, awkward, strangely intimate, heart-fulfilling, sweet, deep, raw, emotional and moving experience. It was more than just a concert: to witness this man was one of the most enchanting, deeply moving and gratifying experience and musical performance I have ever had, both for me and the audience present. A way to say goodbye, feeling enriched and fulfilled.

Photo Credit
Aleksandar Zec

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