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Leonard Cohen : Tournée 2008
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Leonard Cohen's concert the Geneva Arena

by Carine

      October 27th, 2008

I arrived from Paris at the Geneva Arena at 6:30 pm exactly, on a rainy day. The concert hall was large but lacking warmth with its rows of plastic seats just like a stadium. Fortunately, my gaze was drawn towards the centre where the stage rose up imposingly with the instruments in place awaiting the musicians. White net drapes were used as decoration and a Greek nymph was projected onto the back cloth of the stage. The set was sober and perfect : Leonard was well and truly in Helvetia ! In less than one hour from now, I would be seeing him for real and for the first time in my life …


I settled down in the Carré Or, Row 14, almost opposite centre-stage with my camera and my note pad to record key-moments. The Genevans finally arrived and the atmosphere, to my great surprise, was very relaxed, without glitz or glamour, as if they had come to see an old friend, family entertainment. Another surprise : drinks, sandwiches, mobile phones and cameras were allowed in the concert hall. A small voice told me to take advantage of this because it could be very different in the Olympia of Paris.

At 8 pm exactly, the lights went out. Projectors lit up the curtains in red and the master, punctual as usual, made his entrance followed by his musicians.
Would he be tired by his tour? Would he make the same introduction in French as in Nice and Lyon? The same gestures? The same words?  All these questions spun in my mind but unnecessarily so, knowing Leonard Cohen. And then there he was truly present and coming to meet his public, full of dignity and apparently moved, and I felt as if I had always known him … A black felt hat firmly in place on his head and dressed in his dark striped gabardine suit.

He took the microphone and with his golden voice, intact and perfect, started his concert directly with the notes of " Dance me to the end of love ". He moved on with "The Future", then, in impeccable French, he said : " il n’y a pas de remède à l’amour" to introduce the song " Ain’t no cure for love".  " The Partisan" in the second part was also interpreted partially in French and, just before the break, he started off this sentence in French : " it is a great privilege to present these songs " and ended it in English " in this place while the world is suffering and going down into chaos ".
Naturally, there were many "Thank you very much"s in French and, in the middle of his performance of "Tower of Song" he roguishly slipped in " that’s very kind of you" also in French to the public applauding his performance on the electronic keyboard.

But to go back to the first part of the concert. The high points were without hesitation all the magnificent songs sung in his mature and grave voice. I will remember for ever Javier Mas' long Spanish-Arabic introduction on the mandolin to " Who by fire ", then a bewitching " Bird on a wire " and " Heart with no companion " to a country music beat.

At the end of a perfectly played "Anthem", Leonard Cohen presented his artists one by one, by bowing respectfully to each of them. He did all this again at the end of the second part. An intense moment of emotion and humility and a special mention for Javier Mas, absolutely magical with his 3 oriental guitars and his complicity on stage with the master.

"In 15-20 minutes, we will return for the second part of the show”. And with these words in French Leonard Cohen skipped off the stage.


He returned to perform " Tower of song " on his electronic keyboard after a mea culpa in English over " these 15 years of absence from Geneva which were filled with Prozac, religious and philosophical meditation " to which he added mischievously: " I do not know if it really helped to improve me personally or even to play the keyboard better ".

And the song was prolonged by the backing singers “di-dam”s and his “please don’t stop, encore encore, yes yes, please, that’s it ! ".
Then followed his mythical "Hallelujah" with a " I didn't come to Geneva to fool you " and a disconcerting duet with Sharon Robinson with inverted roles: he sang the backing whereas she sang a soul style version of "Boogie Street".
Then the magnificent " I' m your man " which he sang personally to each and every woman present (me included) followed by a highly musicalised " Take this waltz " which drew everyone into the waltzes of Vienna …

Then that was it  … It was finished. Standing ovation. And away he went, followed by his musicians.  Already?
The Swiss public reacted. Applause enough to break the house down … He returned, took up his guitar again and played " So long Marianne " magnificent and powerful.
Once again, a standing ovation. And there, the ultimate gift,  the first sad notes of "Famous Blue Raincoat" resounded , the song that I had been waiting for, for such a long time. I cried with happiness and applauded. The public did likewise. This song is rarely sung by Leonard Cohen and this evening, he offered it to us. The atmosphere became heavy. The deep voice resounded again to recite a prayer to his Creator: " If it be your will that I speak no more, and my voice be still as it was before. I will speak no more. I shall abide until I am spoken for. If it be your will.” A heart-rending goodbye … There was a deep silence and then finally the notes came. In the background once again, he remained silent listening to his song " If it be your will " interpreted by the Webb Sisters. The public held its breath. I saw my neighbour had broken down into tears. Fortunately, the percussion in Closing Time put happiness back into our hearts and Leonard finished with the lighter "I tried to leave you", and "Whither thou goest " zooming in again on each musician allowing them to interpret the song in their own way. What generosity!

I looked at my watch 11:25 pm! 3 hours and 10 minutes of beautifully coloured concert and more than 25 masterpieces following on one after the other to perfection. The patriarch came forward, happy and with this discreet smile by which we know him. He lined up with all the members of his band as if at the end of a play.

Then these words of love were addressed to us all: " Good night my darlings. Hope you are satisfied. I don’t know when we'll meet again. Don’t catch a cold, all the blessings be yours. Thank you for this wonderful evening! ".
How could it be possible not to be satisfied Oh dear artist of my heart? After a concert so rich in emotion, so marked by love and poetry for all mankind … God bless you for so much talent, generosity, humility and wisdom !

And I left for my hotel near the airport with the magnificent songs of Leonard Cohen in my heart, a man at the top of his art and his songs surely eternal.



Set-List :

Dance me to the end of love
The Future
Ain’t no cure for love
Bird on a wire
Everybody knows
In my secret life
Qho by fire
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
Heart with no companion

Tower of Song
Gipsy wife
The partisan (en français)
Boogie Street
I’m your man
Take this waltz

Encores 1 :
So long Marianne
First we take Manhattan

Encores 2 :
Famous Blue Raincoat
If it be your will
Closing time
I tried to leave you

Encores 3 :
Whither Thou Goest

© Carine
- Translation by Carine with the kind help of Judy Remy

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