It’s four in the morning, the end of December

Leonard Cohen – September 29th 2010, Dortmund

OK, I admit that it is not December and the events I am going to write about did not take place at 4 a.m. either, but I had been waiting for those lines all night long and when I finally heard them, I could not help but cry.

On a beautiful late September evening I went to the time-honored Westfalenhallen to see the time-honored Leonard Cohen. Due to the high ticket price I decided about this quite late, but still scored a good seat. I had heard he plays for 3 hours. Less than that, I had no clue what to expect. Granted, I know loads of his songs, but most of them only as cover versions. Would he come alone? Would he bring a band? How would the show be structured and would I even recognize the familiar songs? I was quite excited about this, but also not quite ready to be at a gig, because thoughts of other events in my life preoccupied me. While bands that I love, usually have the gift of taking me to a different place immediately, going to see someone I don’t really know always involves the risk of not getting into it if the time is not right.

Either way, I enjoyed taking my time, handing my coat in at the cloak room, getting a drink before the show and then strolling to my seat. It was side stage with a great view. I noticed two things: There were a lot of instruments set up and I was lowering the average age considerably. Sure, there were people younger than myself, but I only few and far between. Most of the audience was in their 40ies, 50ies or 60ies, all dolled up and ready to roll.

The show was supposed to start at 20:00 and by 20:15 loud clapping indicated that people were getting a little impatient. At 20:20 the lights went down, the band came out and then the grand old man with the black hat and coat walked on stage. He got standing ovations before even singing one note. He started with several songs I didn’t know, but was so much into it that I enjoyed it despite my thoughts still running in all sorts of directions. The band was fabulous and Leonard himself was wonderful. He often knelt on stage (I suspect to better read the lyrics on the prompter), but the effect was good. He thanked the audience and the band sincerely, he sang his heart out, shared bittersweet songs and deep, dark secrets in a raspy voice. There was often irony involved, but it was never clichéed and didn’t come across as scripted, just honest and very beautiful.

The first words he said were “Thank you my friends for your warm reception. I don’t know when we will be coming this way again, but I guarantee you that we will give it all we got.” Friends, that’s what me made us feel like that night, accomplices even. Listeners who hung on to every word he sang. The band was fabulous and played flawlessly. They honored each other, showed grace and style. The 15-20 minute break turned into half and hour, but the second part of the show was no less wonderful than the first. It ended just after 23:00 was the most powerful version of “Hallelujah” I have ever heard. It was so heartfelt and beautiful that I cried. Most people thought it was over then, I think even the lights went on briefly and a mass exodus started. However, shortly after the band came back on stage and continued playing for another 30 minutes! Hardly anyone in the audience sat down again, people ran to the front to be close and it was now that the old hits came out. “First we take Manhattan” was there and then, finally, those lines I had been waiting for all night “Famous blue raincoat”. I was still crying and didn’t care who saw my tears. It has been a while since a concert moved me in that way.

“Closing Time” was the final song, the lights went on and a little dazed, we all prepared to leave. Yet, too soon. They came back out again and the next song started with the line “I tried to leave you…”. Laughter all around. Two more songs before it was really over. They sure made good on their promise and I left the place shortly before midnight with a big smile on my face. It was a wonderful, a magical night as very few are and I am very happy to have had the chance to witness this.

Setlist

Dance me to the End of Love
The Future
Ain’t no Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
Everybody knows
Who by Fire
The Darkness
Born in Chains
Chelsea Hotel #2
Waiting for the Miracle
Anthem
Tower of Song
Suzanne
Avalance
Sisters of Mercy
The Gypsy’s Wife
Feels so good
The Partisan
Hallelujah
I’m your Man
Take this Waltz

Encores:
So long, Marianne
First we take Mahattan
Famous blue Raincoat
If it be your will
Closing Time

I tried to leave you
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye

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