WORLD TOUR 2008-2009

Concert at The Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux, Switzerland, July 8, 2008

Review and photos by Christof Graf

For many artists Montreux is something special. Many artists are something special for Montreux. This incomparable symbiosis which is immediately present when in Montreux forms the basis of what has made the "Montreux Jazz Festival", which was started in 1966 by Impressario Claude Nobs, the most famous festival in the world, starting with strictly Jazz artists but more recently featuring diverse artists playing every kind of Popular Music.

This year, the acclaimed festival's main theme was rather modernistic, zeitgeist, with enough room for all kinds of interpretation made possible by the large-scale diversity of the schedule of the festival. But let's start with having a look into the history of the "Montreux Jazz Festival", the MJF.

In 2006 there had been a cut-down in budget compared to former years which turned out rather negative for the festival. And after this small financial disaster of last year's festival, original founder Claude Nobs was once again at the helm in 2008, trying to prevent a further decline of the MJF which might have led to its eventual end !

Anyway, 2008 saw the festival return to its former glory and legends old and new shared the stage during the 16 days that the festival lasted. The real highlight was the appearance of someone that was thought to be long lost, someone thought to probably never return to the stages of the world, someone who was nonetheless not forgotten and whose appearance was equally hoped for and surprising at the same time – Leonard Cohen. The "God in the black suit", as he was called by the Swiss press, hasn't been on tour since 1993 and played the Auditorium Stravinski on July 8 during his surprisingly announced and rather large-scale world tour 2008.

After a concert hiatus which lasted for more than 15 years, the Canadian singer-songwriter was back on the road and advance sales for the European shows were impressive, 25.000 tickets for three shows in Dublin sold within 30 minutes, 18.000 tickets for the show in London's gigantic O2 Arena sold within one single day.

One of the most extraordinary figures of the rock history was suddenly back and in March he even was, much too late some say, introduced into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Also, his own hometown honoured him with a special Tribute-Show at this year's Montréal Jazz Festival. After some years of self-chosen reclusion, Leonard Cohen was back. From the beginnings of his writing to this very day, his songs and prose deal masterfully with melancholy, love, sex and death. With songs like 'Suzanne', 'So Long Marianne' or 'Lover Lover Lover' he managed to express the feelings and emotions of the 60s and 70s and he still manages to reach both audiences and musicians alike with the painfully beautiful melancholy of his songs.

And now suddenly it seemed as if he never 'disappeared'. Cohen, now aged 73, whose musical career already lasts as long as the MJF, won the audience over with an almost three-hour show of which the Geneva newspaper 'Le Temps' wrote it had "échos d'une nuit de mélancolie poétique", it resembled a night of poetic melancholy.

As soon as Cohen and his nine-piece band launched into the opening song "Dance Me To The End Of Love", the audience started to cheer and applaud until the end of the song when Cohen said, "The last time I was in Switzerland I was 60. Compared with today I was a little boy back then, with my head full of crazy ideas." But that was only just the beginning, and playing Montreux, like he already did before, didn't seem to be the craziest of ideas.

There seems to be something special to the place because Cohen already performed there three times before this show. Unfortunately, those shows never resulted in the release of an official Live Album and so the – partial – broadcasts of various Swiss radio stations served as the basis for a variety of Bootleg records.

This show from 1976 was something special as it featured the then-unreleased gem 'Store Room", a song that was only played live on that particular tour. Before getting into the song, Cohen explained its core meaning, "For me, the Store Room is the room where everything is coming from."

In 2008, there were plenty of announcements and little remarks by Leonard Cohen who frequently thanked the audience with bows and hat offs to the audience which in turn paid back their tribute by soaking up note by note, line by line, verse by verse and song by song of a show that featured 25 songs in all.

Swiss paper 'Le Temps' headlined their very positive review "Le Retour de la vieille âme", the return of the old spirit. '20 Minutes' called him twice "Gott im schwarzen Anzug", God in the black suit, whereas 'france24.com' hailed "Leonard Cohen shows Montreux that he's still the man." The overall press reaction was overwhelming. And rightly so, as Cohen knew from the start to convince and surprise, performing some songs kneeling, almost praying while others were done out loud, with fists up in the air. A couple of songs into the set, after 'The Future', 'There Ain't No Cure For Love' or 'Bird On A Wire' is seemed like less of a concert but more of a celebration of Rock poetry, with Leonard Cohen serving as its high priest.

"Give me back my broken night, my mirrored room, my secret life", he speaks and later he sings in his extremely deep baritone voice, "Give me back the Berlin wall, give me Stalin and St. Paul, I`ve seen the future, brother: it is murder". From whom, if not Leonard Cohen, would you believe such prophecies ? Together with the Webb Sisters, the two other background singers beside Leonard Cohen's collaborator Sharon Robinson, he keeps repeating "Repent" into the microphone – but Cohen does not repent !

In carefully chosen words he delivers a short speech about his lifelong quest for fulfilment. But he does not regret, neither his frequent withdrawals from the Rock business nor his long lasting stays in a Zen-Monastery at Mount Baldy near Los Angeles and equally in India. His longest stay there was nine years, from 1994 to 2003, while his longest absence from the business lasted from 1993 to 2008, the better part of 15 years. This silence was only broken a couple of times for instance with the release of his 2001 album "Ten New Songs" or the presentation of his long-awaited new "Book of Longing" at the New York City Bookfair in 2006. But Cohen does not regret anything at all. Neither his trust in his ex-manager Kelley Lynch who misappropriated over US $ 5 million from Cohen's retirement fund along with the publishing rights to his songs nor his frequent affairs. For Cohen, backlashes, like successful comebacks seem to be part of that fulfilment. Cohen does not repent!

Cohen is different. And the many cliché-ladden 80 to 100 line articles – pieces with titles like "From Excentric to Monk" or "Bonvivant of Melancholy" – about this one major Rock poet besides Bob Dylan rarely do him justice and are often misinformed or incompetently written.

"And everybody knows that it`s now or never / Everybody knows that it`s me or you / And everybody knows that you live forever", Cohen sings in the song 'Everybody Knows' written with Sharon Robinson after reciting the first verse in French. After 'In My Secret Life', 'Who By Fire' and 'Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye', Cohen performs 'Anthem' before a 20-minute break between sets.

"I was born with the gift of a golden voice" is not a line by Ray Charles as one would be tempted to think but a line by Leonard Cohen, featured in his title 'Tower Of Song', a track from 1988s successful album "I'm Your Man", of which the title song and the often covered "First We Take Manhattan" were also played in Montreux. 'Tower Of Song' may be the one song that comes closest to mirror his work.

But before that song, Cohen sings his most famous lines, "Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river / You can hear the boats go by" and the audience quietly completes the line, "You can spend the night beside her / And you know that she`s half crazy." If the auditorium was already like a church before, now it resembles a temple, a temple of Rock poetry, a haven for all who have in the last 40 years used Cohen's lines as the soundtrack to their emotions, emotions that nobody can put into words in quite the way Cohen did and still does. There is an almost hypnotic and mantra-like quality to the timbre of his voice. And the audience, one might say his disciples, recognizes the precision with which every line is delivered, be it in sparse arrangements concentrating on his acoustic guitar or be it in songs modernistic but unobstrusively arranged to feature his large band.

Like never before, Cohen seems to look into every nuance of every song to perform it to the greatest possible effect. Especially with the then following songs 'Gypsy Wife' and 'Boogie Street', the 'Tower' becomes the 'Temple Of Song'. The following song 'Hallelujah' finally is the crowning piece for Leonard Cohen, the High Priest. After each and every song, Cohen takes his hat off to salute his disciples and thank his backing band whose musicians are often namechecked during the show. As a result, the audience is touched and stunned to experience such a great show after such a long hiatus. But Leonard Cohen, too, seems to be touched.

Sometimes he's grinning, sometimes he's smiling whimsically, and sometimes it looks like there's a tear in the corner of his eye. With the uptempo 'Democracy' and 'I'm Your Man', the holy moments in Montreux' 'Temple Of Song' become a bit louder – before making way for a very, very soft-spoken announcement, "Thank You for keeping my songs alive for all these years", he quietly mutters into the microphone. And then he strips away all music and starts 'A Thousend Kisses Deep' not as a song – but as a spoken-word performance.

All 5000 witnesses in this auditorium of devotion are absolutely quiet and are listening stunned to gather some of the impact of these words. 'Take This Waltz', an homage to his favourite poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, ends this two-hour ceremony of words. Several encores bring Cohen back to the stage, amongst them 'So Long, Marianne', 'First We Take Manhattan', ' Sisters Of Mercy' and 'If It Be Your Will'. At the end of 'Closing Time' Cohen jumps around the stage like a little boy, cheerfully laughing, taking his hat off and waving goodbye to the audience, visibly amused and thankful for a great night of song.

With the bluesy 'I Tried To Leave You' he tries after almost three hours to leave behind the now almost trance-like enthusiasm of the audience. With the very last number, the gospel-like "Whiter Thou Goest" he finally succeeds. Definitely, the line "I hope you are satisfied" from 'I Tried To Leave You' became true for the audience. The disciples could now finally head home satisfied and emotionally touched from their pilgrimage to the Mecca of Song and Poem.

His hair may have turned grey but his friends are not all gone. In Montreux, they all assembled to render homage to this man who is still capable of turning the 'Tower Of Song' into the 'Temple Of Song'. Leonard, we too try to leave you but we fail as well. – 'Whither Thou Goest'. "With all our people I will march / Thy People shall be my people."

Somehow, the Montreux Jazz Festival never ceases to be something special, even if there are seemingly some shortages here and there. Overall expenses for the 16 days of the festival ran up to 18 Million Schweizer Franken (17.2 million US $ or 11 Million €). The most expensive tickets were those for the Leonard Cohen concert. Front row seats were at 350 CHF ($ 333 / € 215), the cheapest were 140 CHF ($133 / € 85). But only 42 % of the expenses are covered by ticket sales. 25 % are covered by corporate Sponsoring, 20 % by local gastronomy. The remaining approximately 7 % are paid by what has been build up by Claude Nobs to be an important factor in the decision of many major artists coming regularly to Montreux – the possibility of recording live albums with state-of-the-art technology at relatively low costs. Another new source of income to keep the MJF alive is franchising, e.g. the 'Montreux Jazz Café' which has opened at the Geneva airport.

Let's hope that the very special thing will soon be the offical release of Leonard Cohen's "Live In Montreux 2008".

- Christof Graf

Photos and text© 2008 Christof Graf. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Any other use forbidden without written permission from the author.

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Leonard Cohen had a packed Auditorium of overcome fans completely spellbound last night. He is unique, a kind of mythical figure. His voice, of course, but also his style and his too rare appearances make him seem a living god. But a human god, whom one can approach and almost touch. The audience was partly seated, well-behaved, mostly of mature age.

For Leonard Cohen has been singing for over 40 years. Today he is almost 74. Black suit, grey shirt, and black hat, the Canadian poet goes through the list of his titles. His hand often makes the shape of a fan to protect the microphone or his mouth. And that voice ! Coming from the depth of shadows, it stuns the audience, even when he`s greeting Montreux, where " it`s a privilege and a luxury " to perform.

Besides, this is the only performance in Switzerland during his tour. " Dance me to the end of love ", "Everybody Knows", "Suzanne ", "The Gypsy`s Wife "...folk, pop or cabaret, the artist sings of love, politics, or religion. And he says to the audience, " Thank you for all these years in which you have kept my songs alive."

No, Mr Cohen, it is we who thank you.

20 MINUTES, Review by Gregoire Nappey, translated by Sasha K.


The Jewish poet from Montreal was returning to the Festival after a 23-year absence. First impressions, during the intermission, of a lively and heartrending concert.

Broke, but generous. They say Leonard Cohen is back on stage to make some money, having had his fortune ripped off by his former manager. Millions disappeared. To see him performing last night, bounding onto the stage at the Stravinski, with a lively step and a radiant smile, it is hard to believe money is his sole motivation. It`s clear he takes pleasure in being on tour again, sharing that repertoire which is so majestic, not to say mythical. Cream shirt, dark suit and hat, Cohen has natural elegance, as usual. The whole group has the same look, or close to it, like the Blues Brothers minus the dark glasses. More grounded, too.

There wouldn`t be a concert from the famous seducer without female background vocalists; there are three, onmnipresent in the ten songs of the first set, introduced by a sprightly " Dance Me To The End Of Love". At the start of each solo and at the end of each song, Cohen doffs his hat respectfully, even greeting the members of his group with a classy bow, and the same to the audience, who are charmed by him, and most of the time, spellbound. His deep voice of chalk and silk has retained all its suaveness, all its fluidity, all its clarity. Cohen always makes the colors of shadows and sparks dance with the same gravity, the same lightness.

24 HEURES, review by Michel Caspary, translated by Sasha K.

More audience reports here on our Forum
Marie's media report at Speaking Cohen website