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Two masters in one week …

On Monday I saw Jeff Beck at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne.  Here is what I thought. Last night (Saturday, January 31) I saw Leonard Cohen at an open air concert in a Hunter Valley vineyard. It is not often that you get to see two masters in one week. I gave last night’s concert a score of 8.5/10.

First, the venue was not as good as the hype would suggest (marketed as “adayonthegreen”). The sound quality was variable. But off putting was the boozy, carnivarous nature of the crowd. Okay, it was a winery and they had an incentive to push as much alcohol onto the crowd as possible. But the result was an often boorish, hooting type audience response that in my view reduced the sensitivity of the event.

The band was excellent. Electric guitarist Bob Metzger played (mostly) a f-hole telecaster through a black face fender twin-type amp (not sure which exact model). His tone was beautiful and the rare solos he was given were very measured. I thought he was not used enough. The other guitarist was the Spaniard Javier Mas who was featured often on various acoustic instruments including what looked like a laud with 2 f-holes on either side. He also played a 12-string guitar and a bandurria or mandolin (the 12-strings makes me think it was a bandurria). He was a nice player but I thought he was given too much prominence relative to the Metzger. But what else would you expect a fender player like myself to say. He also played some flamenco bits but the tremolo was done by pick rather than fingers – not in the traditional style of the flamenco masters. The Hammond B3 organist Neil Larsen was also great but mixed a little too far down in the overall sound for my liking. The acoustic guitar, bass and sax was always right up front and the telecaster and organ always to the back. I would have mixed it the other way around. The backing vocals were excellent – very soulful.

As for Leonard Cohen himself – this was the first time I have seen him having been an admirer of his music, poetry and prose since I was a teenager in the late 1960s. He was a great performer and still really with it at 75 years of age. His deep voice is something else and his lyrics are mesmerising. He was also a very gracious “star” and gave his band soloing opportunities throughout, in what turned out to be a very long night.

They did an hour set between 19:20 and 20:20. Then a 20 minute break occurred. Then they came on about 20:45 and played for another 2 hours (about). Just when you thought the show was over, out came another configuration of instruments and away it went again. 3 (staged) encores saw the band finally finish at 22:45. So, given he is performing again for the first time in 15 years in order to get his pension back after being ripped off by his manager he really earned his wage last night. All his shows around Australia have been of a similar length and intensity if the reviews are anything to go by.

So a bad venue but a great show. He did most of my favourites – The Partisan, Famous Blue Raincoat and In My Secret Life. Absent favourites were The Stranger Song, The Priests, Master Song and The Avalanche.

He was supported by Paul Kelly who I thought was not having one of his best days. It was nice to see him playing with his son though.

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