Sunday, August 09, 2009
Leonard Cohen in Istanbul
Three hours at the top of the tower of song, by ÇETİN CEM YILMAZ, ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News, Thursday, August 6, 2009
Legendary poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen lights up Istanbul with his brilliant three-hour set at the Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Concert Hall. The singer heartens his 4,000 fans not only with his astounding melodies and timeless lyrics on love, politics and life, but also with his gentle, humble stage persona
Leonard Cohen is not getting older; he is only getting better.
Since the Canadian poet/songwriter ended his 15-year concert hiatus in 2008, Western critics have been hailing his comeback performances as the best of Cohen’s career. His first concert in Turkey, held Wednesday at the Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Concert Hall in Istanbul, showed that the pundits were not exaggerating.
Before showing their skills on stage, Cohen and his band proved their punctuality: It was only seconds past 9 p.m. when the band broke into the first notes of “Dance Me to the End of Love.” A popular pick for wedding ceremonies, the song stands among one of the favorite Cohen tunes of Turkish fans, but it could hardly fulfill its crowd-pleasing potential since about the quarter of the spectators were still trying to find their seats. The same went for “The Future,” “Ain’t No Cure For Love” and even the fourth song, “Bird on the Wire,” as the singer’s Turkish fans apparently did not share his punctuality.
But to give credit where it is due, once seated, the spectators did their best to become a part of the act, adding extra rhythm to the songs with their handclaps and singing along so subtly that it sounded as if they were afraid of breaking a spell.
Cohen too acknowledged the fans’ participation. “Thank you for your warm and hospitable reception,” he said in his deep baritone voice. “Tonight we will give everything we have.”
This they did, not only the great songwriter himself, but his entire nine-piece group. Take the long, breathtaking solo performance by guitarist Javier Mas, for example. The musician from Barcelona, who Cohen hailed as a “virtuoso” several times, delivered an inspiring passage that lasted approximately three minutes before the band slid into the beautiful “Who By Fire.”
Mas’ solo was no exception; Cohen made way for his fellow musicians many times, refusing to see them as simply a back up band. Each of them performed a solo sometime during the three-hour set, and Cohen showed a delicate respect every time, taking off his hat and standing utterly motionless to the side of the performer.
For a music legend whose name is carved into history as a solo performer, minimizing his ego to that degree took a lot of wisdom. Cohen had that, of course. He also had many praises for his band members and was generous in giving them deserved accolades – “impeccable” and “incomparable,” to name just two.
But, of course, no matter how amazingly capable and perfectly harmonious the players were, Cohen outshined them all. With his elegant looks, gentle talk and delicate moves, he proved to be the perfect gentleman of rock and folk music. One wonders how he can knock the listener down, as in a deadly punch, with that velvet glove. In a magnificent trio of “Suzanne,” “So Long, Marianne” and “Hallelujah,” Cohen delivered some of the best-written, most heartbreaking songs of all time, and added the betrayal-themed “Famous Blue Raincoat” as one of his encores.
His catalogue was not limited to love songs, though. Cohen stung with politically charged lyrics, too, on songs including “Everybody Knows,” “The Future,” “The Partisan” and “Anthem.” The singer once famously said, when he was asked about his feelings after Sept. 11, that he had said it all before in those songs. He was right; what can be said about conflicts, wars and violence is perfectly encapsulated in their lyrics.
The 74-year-old singer also let loose his more unruly and impish side on numbers like “I’m Your Man,” which was backed by a massive sing-along by fans.
Every time the artist hailed the spectators to conclude his show, bowed out and then danced his way off the stage, he was called back again. Cohen made four encores and played for almost three hours, but even at the very end, the audience had not had enough of him.
The words this inspirational musician brought from his very own “tower of song” were as revelatory as they have been over the past four decades. After being enchanted by his lyrics and melodies through recorded materials, Turkish fans were finally honored by Cohen’s presence. For many, that was the end of the “waiting for a miracle” – a miracle that was the man himself, along with his wonderfully penned songs.