Molde Jazz: Day 5, July 17, 2009

John Kelman By

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It didn't hurt that Cohen had a crack band, the same band that can be heard on the Live in London (Columbia, 2009) CD and DVD. And while the first set faithfully followed that of those releases, the second set of a show that, with the break, approached the three-hour mark, deviated slightly, with "Famous Blue Raincoat" replacing "Sisters of Mercy" in the second of three encores, since the latter song appeared earlier in the set in place of "The Gypsy's Wife." With most of his backup band multi-instrumentalists—whether it was Javier Mas' Bandurria, laud, archilaud and 12-string guitar, Neil Larsen's keys, accordion and brass, Dino Soldo's keys, saxophones and wind instruments or Bob Metzger's electric and pedal steel guitar—bassist/musical director Roscoe Beck's arrangements were filled with variety in an easygoing but never lightweight performance.

Molde Jazz Festival

Cohen's never had a voice with great range or power, but the fact remains—a truth made especially evident in the film Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005), where all but a couple of singers with far stronger voices completely butchered Cohen's poetry (Teddy Thompson being the notable exception) by forgetting that it's never about the voice, it's always about the prose: there are few singers alive who can deliver his words with the same pathos, irony and self-effacing humor. And hearing his gruff, low-register voice deliver a line like "Good night, my darling, I hope you're satisfied" in "Closing Time"—for which the crowd went wild—it's easy to see that as influential as Bob Dylan has been on generations of singers, so too has Cohen been a reference point, albeit one less often cited. Mark Knopfler would surely have not been the same had it not been for Cohen, especially during the ex-Dire Straits guitarist/vocalist's earlier, more poetic days.

The crowd was with Cohen from the first words of "Dance Me to the End of Love," singing along without any need for Cohen to solicit audience participation. And when he sang "The Future," a particularly relevant song in the soundtrack to Oliver Stone's ode to violence, Natural Born Killers (1994), it was still as chilling as ever. Cohen rarely spoke to the audience outside the context of his songs, but when he changed "And just when I climbed this whole mountainside" to "And just when I climbed these 200 mountainsides" in "So Long, Marianne," his specific connection to audience and location was unmistakable. Always the understated poet, Cohen didn't have to pander to his audience; his committed delivery was more than all that was necessary to establish a bond that his fans will walk away with and remember, even if he never plays in Molde again.

High points of the show were many but, unsurprisingly, "Suzanne" and "Hallelujah" were two of them, if for no other reason than Cohen demonstrated a simple but moving facility on guitar on the former and unexpected vocal range on the latter; his unerring pitch was maintained throughout the show. And as the show ended with the moving "Whither Thou Goest," where he thanked not only his band, but his road crew and audience, it was clear that Cohen may have been forced into this tour out of necessity, but this was no by rote performance. Cohen gave his all throughout, delivering a set of iconic songs with remarkable grace and elegance, and covering so much of his best material that it would, indeed, be hard to imagine anyone going home unsatisfied.

Tomorrow: Break of Day in Molde; Crime Time Orchestra, Jaga Jazzist, Arve Henriksen with Trio Mediaeval, Ståle Storløkken and Jan Bang.

Visit Leonard Cohen and Molde Jazz on the web.

Photo Credits

All Photos: John Kelman

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6



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