Category Archives: Music


Who Needs Dead Poets When You’ve Got Leonard Cohen?

I had the privilege to see Leonard Cohen perform at the Sony (formerly Hummingbird) Centre last night. Thanks to a buddy for the tickets. At $250 a pop I could never have afforded them. The show was… intensely moving. And yes, I know exactly how trite and tacky that sounds, but it’s the truth. I even wanted to leave the theatre for a moment to have a little cry at one point, but not because I was sad, just a little too emotional.

At this point, I ought to admit my relationship to Leonard Cohen is not that of a true devotee and that my perception and experience of him is somewhat distorted. Being Canadian, I grew up thinking of Leonard Cohen as a poet from the CanLit canon, since that’s the context in which I encountered him, i.e. being forced to study his poetry in high-school English class. I liked his poetry very much, even though I despised all the rest of the stodgy pillars of CanLit (excuse me, but Margaret Atwood can GET STUFFED!) Ahem. As I was saying… then it seemed to me that sometime around the 90’s he started putting out records and people started playing them all the time and I thought “Well, hell, that’s cool. Nobody reads poetry anymore anyway and kids certainly don’t. Smooth move, Mr. Cohen.” And then he became a singer/songwriter phenom and his words and music became part of the background of our lives….

Well, of course, I’m a complete idiot, because a little research will reveal that Cohen’s been a singer/songwriter since the 60’s. True, he’s published a quite a few books of poetry, and even a couple of novels, but music has always been his thing and I just never noticed. For the benefit of others who don’t know the man’s story any better than I do, he’s apparently had affairs with Janis Joplin and Rebecca DeMornay, among many others. He’s also an ordained Rinzai Zen Buddhist Monk, though he’s still a Jew (Zen is easy-going that way.) He’s also apparently broke due to a sordid betrayal, but you can go read about that yourself. An interesting life, to be sure.

So, back to the show. Leonard Cohen is about 75 years old. He hasn’t toured for 15 years. Rumour has it that this tour is an attempt to make back some of the money stolen from him, which accounts for the outrageous ticket prices. As soon as he appeared on the stage he received a standing ovation, and it wasn’t just an obligatory one, either; some of those people had been waiting for this moment for a decade and a half! He asked the crowd to be seated with a hand-gesture and then thanked everyone, with a shared chuckle, for the “financial inconvenience” they’d gone to in order to be present. Throughout the show, the man displayed exceeding humility, as well as joy and humour. He’s a fragile-looking guy, though his voice was strong and there was no lack of passion in his performance, especially in favourites like “Hallelujah”, “The Future”, and “Democracy” (which really ought to be an Obama campaign song, doncha think? Check the lyrics!) His pitch may have been a bit off, but then I’m not sure he was ever famous for being an incredible singer. Nobody cared anyway.

It’s the lyrics that make Leonard Cohen’s songs so amazing, and the audience was improbably silent throughout the show so as not to miss a word. This is especially important as Cohen changes the lyrics to his songs so you might hear something new even if you think you already know the piece by heart. He would often introduce the songs with snippets of the same song, or other songs, or bits and pieces of poetry (in English or in French.) At one point he recited a poem that, although it often repeats the phrase “A Thousand Kisses Deep”, bears no resemblance to the lyrics of the song of that name. I haven’t yet found where it came from, or if it’s new, or if he made it up just for the tour or what… I’m sure some avid fan will enlighten me.

Anyway, though he will be remembered as a singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen is still primarily a poet to me. Last night I remembered why I loved his poetry as a teenager and why I ever loved poetry at all! It inspired me to go back and re-discover poetry all over again. I also left with a little remorse. For not having paid enough attention to his art in the past. For probably never having the chance to hear him perform again. He asked everyone to make sure on leaving the theatre to look in their hearts for–or re-find if necessary–the “blessings of peace”. It felt an awful lot like a final good-bye. And now I will have to go have that cry….

Radiohead has a good laugh?

It’s official today: Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows, is done; and it’s only available from their website. Nice. Even nicer, you can pay whatever you want for it.

Of course, this applies to the digital verison only.

If you want an actual CD, you’ll have to pay them 40 pounds (probably about $80CDN.) The reason it’s so expensive is that it comes with two CDs and two 12″ vinyl records, and the price includes worldwide shipping (so British fans will be happy to know they’re subsidizing the shipping costs for North American and Japanese fans, eh?)

Now… what the f*** am I supposed to do with records? Do I look like Kid Koala?

So, seriously: I’m glad they’ve made new music and I can’t wait to hear it. I’m a little disappointed that I can’t buy a CD. Doesn’t really sound like the future of the music industry to me. Nice try, though.

Radiohead is a Drug (Hummingbird, Take 2)

“For a minute there, I lost myself…”

The second show at the Hummingbird re-affirmed my belief that Radiohead is a drug. To be taken live. As frequently as possible.

The setlist hardly matters, since last night was not just a bunch of songs strung together, but the creation of texture and atmosphere. Which is what Radiohead does best.

In contrast to Wednesday’s show, the sound was better, the band tighter and more focussed. They seemed to be in more of a mood to rock, and blessedly this time Jonny Greenwood was anything but restrained! My inner headbanger enjoyed every second of the guitar-heavy and anthemic tunes: 2+2=5, Fake Plastic Trees, Climbing Up The Walls, Karma Police, Myxomatosis, Spooks, Paranoid Android, and Just. Even the new songs sounded more aggressive than the night before, and I was reminded that despite the usual emphasis on melody, Radiohead is all about percussion.

Spine-tingling moments:

  • Jonny bent over his keyboards like a mad scientist conjuring a monster Thom on Myxomatosis.
  • Thom’s singing. On everything. Nearly note-perfect and displaying an incredible range of both pitch and character.
  • Kid A and Let Down, the former being a live rarity and the latter I’d never even heard them do before.
  • The premiere of Down Is The New Up.
  • The crowd blissfully singing along to Karma Police—which considering the nastiness of the lyrics was more than a little creepy.
  • Spooks. (Thom Yorke: “What the hell was that?! <laughing>)
  • Jonny playing drums on a new tune as well as on There There.

Now it’s Montreal’s turn. Lucky bastards.

Radiohead at the Hummingbird, Take 1

It’s not that often (actually, it’s pretty much never) that your favourite live act of all times plays two shows literally across the street from where you live. Here’s my capsule review of the first show. (Stay tuned for Take 2, tomorrow night.)

First of all, I’ve never seen them in as small a venue as the Hummingbird (or the O’Keefe Centre for you old fogies). It suited them. The human scale was a nice change from the last show at the SkyDome. This time out, they seemed a lot more like a rock band and a lot less like a super-human machine. Their perfectionism can occassionally be painful, but this time they were pleasantly less rehearsed.

And more relaxed. Thom Yorke actually laughed out loud. Several times. At the audience being goofy. At himself, even—for completely flubbing the start of a song. Most Toronto fans still remember the tantrum he threw over forgetting the lyrics to Talk Show Host at Maple Leaf Gardens a few years ago.

The crowd was…enthusiastic. To the point that Yorke had to ask the audience to settle down so he could sing Exit Music. It was pretty funny listening to the crowd shushing and yelling at each other to shut up. Everyone was on their feet the entire night, and I’ve heard less cheering volume from much larger crowds.

As for the music…well, I don’t have a good enough memory to give a full set list. They opened with You And Whose Army, followed by National Anthem and Morning Bell. I sorta lost track after that. There were a lot of new songs, none of whose titles I can tell you, but several of them were great ensemble tunes. Jonny Greenwood is my guitar hero, so the feedback frenzy on Airbag was highly appreciated, as were those lovely god-awful crunches on Morning Bell. Jonny seemed a bit restrained tonight. He had some equipment problems, but made up for it by playing his guitar like a cello (yeah, with a bow) on Pyramid Song. Some of the other things he did with his guitar I can’t even describe. :-} Thom Yorke’s voice was in fine form as usual. For the first time ever, he played a drum kit along with Phil on one of the new songs. And his crazy stage dancing gets better every year…

They did a lot of old standby live favourites, as well as some odd ones, like a hyped up version of The Gloaming, and the ballad How To Disappear Completely. At least one old tune they rarely play, Street Spirit, was a 12-string treat. About the only thing I regret not hearing was My Iron Lung, because I love Jonny going wild on that one. They did two encores and closed with Everything In It’s Right Place. I’ve heard them do that tune much better, but it’s still a great way to end a show.

Well, I’m looking forward to doing that all over again tomorrow night. If they follow the pattern of the previous shows in Boston and Philadelphia, the set list will be completely different, and there should be fewer equipment glitches. If you’ve got a ticket, you’re gonna love it.