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


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The greatest live album of all time

30 years ago, the best live album ever was released. Yes, that's Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band's "Live 1975-85". The first Springsteen album I saw on the Greek music press was "Darkness On The Edge Of Town". The first album from which I heard songs on the radio was "The River" (and yes, the first song I heard was "Hungry Heart"). And the first album I owned was, of course, "Born In The U.S.A". I was gradually becoming a fan while reading the lyrics of that album, but it was this 5 LP set that made me the big fan that I am today.
Before it came out, I bought the 12'' single that preceded it, "War", thinking that I could probably not afford to buy the whole album. This was a very wise purchase as it also featured "Merry Christmas Baby" and an amazing 10 minute version of "Incident On 57th Street". Thankfully, when It did come out, the price was pretty reasonable so I bought it at once. I had already heard of his famous 3 hour live shows so this album was, as I believed then, the closest I could get to that experience. Indeed, I would have to wait nearly 22 years to finally see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band live in person!
I was probably already hooked after the first few notes of "Thunder Road" and that is why, to this day, this is my favourite version. Little did I know that the next song "Adam Raised A Cain" would be the first song I would hear Bruce play live at the Parc De Princes stadium in Paris, France, on the 27th of June 2007.
Some of the songs I already knew. "Jersey Girl" in this particular version, I already had, as a b-side to the "Cover Me" 12-inch single. "Because The Night" I had already known, like most people, from Patti Smith. And weirdest of all, "Racing In The Street" was featured on Queen drummer Roger Taylor's second solo album "Strange Frontier". Seeing as Queen were (and still are) my favourite band, I had bought that album. "This Is Your Land" I had already heard in a television programme, probably about Woody Guthrie. Plus there was that cover version of "Born To Run" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood on their debut album...
With the help of the 36-page booklet featuring the lyrics of all the tracks, I immersed myself in the songs and the stories that Bruce told in them. And not just the stories in the lyrics but the stories Bruce himself narrated at the beginning, or in the middle of songs (Like the story in "Growin' Up" and its sequel at the beginning of "The River"). They spoke of an America that was totally different of the one I knew from the movies and TV series and the one reported from in the news. That was when I started dreaming of a road trip across the US from one cost to the other, something which I did 14 years later, in the late summer of the year 2000. I made that dream come true and I owe it all to Bruce Springsteen.
I also noticed a couple of songs about murderers that both ended up in the chair ("Nebraska" and "Johnny 99", both of course from the "Nebraska" album, here in much "richer" versions).
Finally, I also started "pairing" songs. What did that mean? Well, I would pick a couple of songs that, in my mind, one complemented the other. Like, for example, "Thunder Road" and "Growin' Up" which I thought that there were both great "opening" song. Now "Thunder Road" was the opener on "Born To Run", but "Growin' Up" was not the opener on "Greetings". I felt, however, that if "Live 1975-85 did not open with "Born To Run", it should open with "Growin' Up".
Another couple were "Sandy" and "Rosalita". That one's easy. They both had girls' names (and brackets) in their titles! Then I had "Badlands" and "Backstreets". Well, they both begin with "B" and end with "S" and they're totally different as far as musical styles are concerned. But I felt somehow that they both told similar stories. Finally there was "10th Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Incident On 57th Street" (And yes, yes, I know "Incident" is not featured on the album, but as I've mentioned before, it's on the b-side of the "War" 12-inch single, which, for me, is part of the whole set). Well, these two both tell stories about something that happened on a certain street (Actually, one of them is on an avenue, but there you go).
Four months later, in early 1987, I would buy the album again! By then, I had a CD player and I could not resist the similar box with 3 CD's instead of 5 LP's. Plus, I was studying in another country at that time and I had of course left the vinyl box set at home.
Fast forward to the noughties when I decided to "complete" my collection. One of the first items I bought when I opened an account on eBay was the 3 cassette box set. And after that, I decided to buy the singles that were released from the album. I got "Fire" on 12-inch vinyl which features "For You" which is not on the album and the CD single of "Born To Run" (which is apparently, the first CD single Bruce ever released)

30 years later, when someone asks me to name my 10 favourite albums (or the 10 records I would take with me on a desert island), "Live 1975-85" is always on both lists. "But, no!" they go, "you have to pick 'proper' albums like 'Born To Run' or 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town', no compilations or live ones". "But it is a proper album!" I insist. "It's just... well, a bit longer!".
Admittedly when you are asked which 10 records you would take with you on a desert island and one of those you pick is... 5 records instead of one, it's cheating, but it's my desert island, so what if my luggage is a little bit... heavier?
Needless to say, every year, i pick a day (usually on a Sunday), when I put on my headphones and listen to the complete album from start to finish...