November 14th, 2008


The sweetest voice I ever heard whispered to my soul

Leonard Cohen
The O2, London, 13th November 2008

I didn't actually know the songs of Leonard Cohen that well, apart from 'Hallelujah', and 'Bird on a Wire', and 'Famous Blue Raincoat', and all the other ones it turned out that I did know (many more than I thought). So I didn't really know what to expect, except good songs. But not knowing what to expect means having to listen more attentively to everything, because you don't really know which bits will be the good bits.

I'm not going to do a proper journalistic review. I'll leave that to people who know what they're talking about. But there were nearly three hours of non-stop good bits, good bits made almost entirely of words.

The band was a lot more smooth and shiny than I expected, less about the simple acoustic guitar and more about the backing singers with glossy voices (though one of them did play the harp as well, and the other two turned somersaults in one of the songs); all very polished and pleasant, and with some amazing guitar solos... but I'm not trying to do that sort of review. For me, really, it was all about the lyrics. And the voice -- so incredibly deep, with a texture like rough stone that's been warmed by the sun. It's a voice that sounds like the feeling of being touched.

And I didn't expect to be touched like that. I didn't expect so many poems (with and without music). I didn't expect 'A Thousand Kisses Deep', spoken over one shimmering chord, or the refrain of 'Anthem' uttered like a prayer. The right words can reduce me to wordlessness; the right combination of the sacred and the sexual can bring me to my knees. I don't want to shatter it by trying to explain it.

We missed the last train back, got the coach, arrived home at 3 a.m. All today I have been dazed and tired and had a sense of nameless longing, a sense of something just out of reach; as if there's something solid in my mind which I can touch but not see, something which my fingertips know intimately but which I don't have the vocabulary to translate.