Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Leonard Cohen, live in Athens, July 2008

My first experience of Leonard Cohen was a bit strange. Back in the early 80's I was in high school and I used to study with the radio on because, as I told my parents, "music helps me study better" (yeah, right). Now there was a 15-minute radio program then which was targeted at English learners and was probably a BBC production, where a song was played and its lyrics explained by an English presenter. On top of that a Greek presenter would translate his explanation. When the whole song was explained and translated, the show would be repeated, this time without the Greek translation. I remember two particular songs from this show. One was "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins (it was funny hearing the presenter trying to explain "one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go cat go" but at least I ended up learning what the word "cat" meant in slang) and the other was "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen. "Suzanne" was explained beautifully, even why the tea had come "all the way from China". It was a few years later that my mum told me that she really loved "this Canadian singer with the deep voice called Leonard Cohen". When I heard the song she was referring to I first thought it was a Greek song. The harmonies reminded me of the songs of a famous Greek singer of the time. It wasn't Greek though. It was "Dance Me To The End Of Love". And after all the time Leonard had been spending in Greece (he has a house on the island of Hydra) it was inevitable that he would be influenced by the country's music.
He played live in Athens in 1988 when his "I'm Your Man" album had been released and I somehow managed to miss that. A few months later Tanita Tikaram broke into the UK charts who cited Cohen as one of her major influences. And one of his backing singers on the "I'm Your Man" album, Jennifer Warnes, would release "Famous Blue Raincoat", an album of Cohen covers. However, it would take Cohen four more years to release another album. I was living in London by then, and I saw him at the Royal Albert Hall a few months after "The Future" had been released. Incredibly enough, the people sitting behind me were Greek, too! It would take him a long time to start touring again, but in 2008 I finally saw him in Athens.
It was a little over a month since I had seen Bruce Springsteen live for the first time in Paris and I was surprised that Leonard also played for three hours even with a 20 minute break. Amazing, considering he was already 74 by then! He treated us to all our favourite songs, backed by a very good band and some wonderful female backing singers, who he treated just like the gentleman he was.
"Dance Me To The End Of Love" was the first video I ever uploaded on YouTube and because it was featured on the Speaking Cohen site it got 3000 views.

It was a beautiful summer night, it was a great concert and this was the last time I would ever see Leonard. As always, it was hard to get to and back from Terra Vibe, but I will always remember it.
Goodbye Leonard. Have a nice trip. Stay safe up there at the tower of song...


First Set
01. Dance Me to the End of Love
02. The Future
03. Ain't No Cure for Love
04. Bird on the Wire
05. Everybody Knows
06. In My Secret Life
07. Who by Fire
08. Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye
09. Anthem
Second Set
10. Tower of Song
11. Suzanne
12. The Gypsy's Wife
13. Boogie Street
14. Hallelujah
15. Democracy
16. I'm Your Man
17. Take This Waltz
18. So Long, Marianne
19. First We Take Manhattan
Encore 2:
20. Sisters of Mercy
21. If It Be Your Will
22. Closing Time
Encore 3:
23. I Tried to Leave You
24. Famous Blue Raincoat
25. Whither Thou Goest


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