Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cohen loves Ghent... and Ghent loves Cohen !

The podium (shot with an iPhone) in front
of Sint-Pieter's Abbey in Ghent.
I'm probably one of the least qualified persons on the planet to dare critic the Great Troubadour of our times Leonard Cohen. My knowledge in poetry, song lyrics and literature is at best elementary, same thing as in music. I like a few styles, I am less keen on other, like most of us. However, I happened to attend Cohen's concert in Ghent, yesterday and I wanted to share the experience with my scarce blog audience, provided they'd be interested.

Ever since Cohen started his recent world tours, out of which also the CD "Live in London" and the corresponding DVD came out, Ghent has been a permanent venue in his touring. First I heard about, I was deeply surprised, as Ghent is 'nothing special' to most Belgians or otherwise who live elsewhere
. Ok, it is a 'famous' medieval city with very rich history... fine, so much is true. Also, in recent years, due to the skilful work of visionary city mayors, it's been cleaned up, streets and canals, and became quite attractive for city tourism and inspiring promenades.

For reasons only known to himself, Cohen 'lost' his heart in Ghent, and ever since he started touring again several years ago, he seems to be coming back to Ghent every single year! He's even launched his 2012 world tour that just started this last Monday (or was it Sunday?), by offering his first five (!) concerts this week alone
in the heart of Ghent, at the Sint-Pieter's plein (plein = a square). Which, Marc Didden, a known Flemish commentator, proposed to rename into the 'Leonard Cohen Square'! So much Didden loves Cohen. The square is located in the shadow of the University Library tower, a reputable Art Deco (Henry van de Velde) building in the city Academic Centre, right in front of Sint-Pieters Abbey, a genuinely Medieval setup. The landscape is indeed a sober and attractive background to Cohen's equally sober podium right in front of the Abbey. I reckon nobody else than Cohen could actually perform at that very spot with the required humility and respect without irritating the overly religious, who rather protect 'old' monuments from potential blasphemy by all sorts of contemporary commercial abuse.

Cohen is the sort of singer-poet-songwriter whose style is such that you either love or hate. A bit like Dylan, whose singing irritates as many as it fascinates (I belong to the latter partition, my youngest son to the former).

I must admit, until 'Live in London' came out, I had no particular knowledge of Cohen and his work. I knew of him, I had also heard Suzanne and Hallelujah, like most people, but that was it. OK, maybe there was his "...First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin..." tune too that my fellow colleagues combined with other songs into a musical pot-pouri to pl(t)ease me during my 40th birthday, an innuendo to my ambitious business expansionary activities then... I also knew he spent some time in Greece that he seems to be snubbing entirely in his world tours these days. Initially I thought it was Crete... much later I learned it was the island of Hydra.

I must say, the 'Live in London' album shocked and shook me inside out. I became an instant addict. I hated myself for having ignored Cohen all those years, blindfolded by the requirements and 'golden cage' insulation imposed upon me by my own corporate lifestyle. Life is simple, far simpler than you think. Cohen spoke of life and love in most of his songs. Romantic, deep and genuine love seems to be his mantra, and the main theme in many of his inspiring lyrics. "Dance me to the end of Love", or "There ain't no cure for Love". He also spoke about perfection (that many of us inside the insane corporate landscapes are obsessed about reaching), or, better said, the lack of it, in a way that brought to you sheer shivers. I felt my corporate arrogance getting shredded to pieces. "Forget your perfect offering, there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" (Anthem).

Since 'Live in London', I have been following his 'life' and new albums from nearby. I even iTunes pre-ordered his latest 'Old Ideas' album to be among the first to experience it. I have even heard a pre-release of the album's first song 'Going home' at the online version of New Yorker, and, needless to say, taken by storm. The power of his verses is inexplicably grand!

So,it must come as no surprise to no-one that I decided to go to this concert in Ghent, maybe my last chance to ever see him perform in a live performance, I thought, ever. We're both getting old, you see... In retrospective, I'm glad I did. Here's why.

It sounds unheard of, but I think I must have been in only three concerts in my entire life. That's it! Three! One+one+one! Led Zeppelin in Ghent as well, Dylan at the Vorst Nationaal in Brussels, and yesterday's the third and last. After Led Zeppelin's I came out half deaf until the next morning, Dylan was a sad and shameful train-wreck, that kept the audience short of throwing garbage to the podium only out of respect for his legacy.

On the contrary, Cohen's was the sort of concert that I wouldn't mind going for the rest of my living days. Well done! Perfect! Despite what he himself thinks about 'perfection'.

I love professional work. I mean the kind of work that manages concerts like yesterday's where EVERYTHING seems to be going right and be done exactly like it is supposed to. The logistics, the installations, the execution, the crews! Well done Mr. Project Manager! Well done a thousand times. Namaste.

The concert was supposed to start at 20:00 pm, and you know what? It did! Whereby, a bunch of ticket paying morons still kept coming in three quarters into the programme! Ghent is not the kind of city to get easily lost, right? What happened to them?

Right from the first song the concert became a continuous enjoyment of sight and sound. And this continued for the following 4 (!) and change hours. It sounds crazy, but if there's anything negative to say about it at all, it's the number of tracks they sang. Too many. Even their bonus segment had its own extra bonus. Incredible! I started aching bad on my neck and back, as the seats didn't quite offer the type of comfort the middle aged like myself do typically need. And, speaking of middle aged, the audience was actually made of a majority of 'tea-drinking' geriatrics. Mostly from the generation of baby-boomers and before that, so to say. I almost felt 'young' among them buggers. Some also seemed like they were still deeply in love with their life partners regardless whether the latter were of the same or the opposite sex. A couple dared dance to Cohen's 'Take this Waltz' tune in front of the Podium, and everyone could see them! Whatever, let's not be too cranky here. It's always good to see people attracted to each other, regardless of their sexual preferences. There isn't by far enough 'true' love left in this world, that's for sure... And it is in lovers' real lives that Cohen's verses find their true meaning.

His performing musicians and singers were simply incomparable, to use Cohen's own adjectives. Kudos to all. However, I wanted to stand still just for a split second, and pay my respects to that phenomenal virtuoso Javier Màs, player of the bandurria, a 12 string Folk Spanish guitar. Màs must have been part of Cohen's band from the times of 'Live in London' at least, as far as I could say. The man is for sure possessed by the Greek daemons and Roman genius of the Gods of Music! You see his fingers moving and think, I could do that too! Then you listen to the sound that comes out of his playing and you suddenly realize that you are a witness to the supernatural presence of Orpheus and Apollo. Blimey! I just couldn't describe the feeling. You simply stay breathless and can only react by shedding few tears for your inability to share the moment with your loved ones not present! Thank God it was dark and reactions to feelings were kept private. We were immensely fortunate to experience his three/four song solo performances, of which his very first (I forget the song name) was a new improvisation and different than the one I heard in the "Live in London" album. I wish I could record that piece of divine execution. Unfortunately, I didn't! I'll regret this for the rest of my life. As a parenthesis, I have ringtoned two or three segments of Javier Màs's work from 'Live in London' to set up alarms and wake-up calls on my phone. I'm especially fond of his introduction to the "Gypsy wife" song, a composition in its own right, albeit a bit too brief, that combines Greek bouzouki, Italian mandoline and Spanish classic guitar sounds into a magical harmony. Señor Javier Màs, I bow to you.

I could go on and on. But as I said, who am I to judge that Monstre Sacré called Leonard Cohen? Only thing I could do here is to humbly, very humbly indeed, pay him my deepest respects for his superb performance and pleasure he gave me, and do that with
equal gratitude and humility as his, shown each and every time he greeted us at the end of each song with a rather conspicuous bow and the raising of his hat!

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