An account from a witness to beauty

After being absolutely blown away by Leonard Cohen on Saturday night, I knew I had to go again. He was just that good.

Let me explain.

Just before the gig on Saturday started my friend asked me how long I thought he’d play for. “It’ll either be 20 minutes or 3 hours”, I said, implying that it was either going to be a half arsed hit parade-type show (the kind a veteran artist might pull out when they’re only touring because they have to) or something very special – it wasn’t going to be anything in between.

To be honest had Cohen come out, coughed into the mic and then left I would have been happy enough just to be able to mark him off ‘the list’ and say “I saw Leonard Cohen live”. Thankfully he did a hell of a lot more than that.

Saturday’s gig was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever been to in my life – probably the best. Any fears I had – of a bad sound system which tends to blight every outdoor gig going, for example – were put to rest by the opening notes of the opening song, ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’. Cohen’s voice was the same as ever, maybe even a little better, and his band and backing singers were fantastic. The charisma and charm just flowed from the stage making an atmosphere you would not have thought possible in an open-air venue.

It’s hard to say what the highlight of the night was for me – the whole night was a highlight of my week/month/year/life. In fact, looking through the set list now I’d find myself mentioning nearly every song if I were to list off the ones that really stood out, which is a bit of an oxymoron but there you go.

I would give particular mention to a couple of things, though.

Firstly, his spoken-word rendition of ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ was beautiful and charming and warm. I made a mental note to learn the words in time for my future wife’s 70th or 80th birthday, assuming I’m married and still by around then.

At the risk of sounding like a tag-along, ‘Hallelujah’ was an amazing and uplifting moment – anyone who heard it would surely agree that while Jeff Buckley’s version has its place, there’s no beating the nuanced brilliance of the original.

Finally – and a moment that took me by complete surprise – two of the backing singers (The Webb Sisters) gave a rendition of ‘If It Be Your Will’ which made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. By the looks of things they were filming the gig for a DVD and I implore anyone, fan or not, to check it out for that song if for nothing else.

The show was split into two halves, both around an hour each. As the second half came to a close I figured we’d get an encore to bring us up to 10:30pm; my thinking being that this was the curfew or at least a handy time to round things off. The encore when on until around 10:35pm and Cohen left the stage only to return again. This second encore brought us up to around 10:45pm and as he left the stage again I turned to my friend and suggested he may be back out to bring us up to 11pm. “No way”, he said and I figured I was being a bit optimistic. I was delighted to find that this optimism was warranted as Cohen wandered back on once more.

Overall he was on stage for almost three hours; not bad for a near-75 year old. If I can even stand up straight for that long when I’m 75 I’ll be a happy man. My girlfriend was at Neil Diamond on the same night and she text me at 10:30pm to say the gig there was just over. “Ha”, I thought, “in your face Diamond – and you’re only 67!” (In fairness I think the curfew there may be a bit stricter as it’s right beside so many houses).

As we walked out of the venue I wished it was 8pm again; I wanted to go through it one more time. This is when I started to think about coming back for Sunday’s show. But did I have the money? Was it a wise thing to do? Would I even get a ticket? I must have changed my mind a hundred times before we hit Heuston Station.

Later on I expressed my thoughts to my girlfriend and she said that she would be up for going in; she had just listened to me going on about such an amazing gig and didn’t want to miss out on such an experience. I himmed and hawed a little, dug around to see what the money situation was like and decided to give it a lash.

And so we went back to the Royal Kilmainham Hospital on Sunday evening, with money in our pockets and our fingers crossed. I knew we weren’t the only ones to have the idea of coming back for more so demand for spare tickets would be high.

But we got lucky and were sold two tickets at face value in the row directly in line with the stage. Having already been offered two of the cheaper tickets with a 70% mark-up on them (bringing them from €88.50 to €150 each) I was more than happy to pay €115 for the better tickets and equally happy to know that there were genuine people there who weren’t interested in ripping fans off.

Anyway, the second night. Well, all I can say is that it was just as good, just as sublime. The setlist was largely the same, bar one or two variations (as far as I can recall he didn’t play ‘So Long Marianne’ on Saturday, so that was good to hear) but it’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to go through it all again and Cohen obliged.

So now when I draw up my list of ‘best concerts ever’, Cohen will be both the number one and the number two.

So to anyone who tries to say that Leonard Cohen is depressing, the first thing I’d suggest they do is pay attention to his songs. The second thing I’d suggest they do is ask anyone who went to the gigs and they will tell you what an uplifting experience the whole thing was.

They were nights of beauty in the truest sense of the word. I’m not expecting to see him play these parts again, which is part of the reason why I felt compelled to come back for Sunday’s show, but if he does I will be there.

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