Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer concert season is underway

Summer concert season is upon us and mine’s officially kicked off in great form with two shows this week that simply slew me – The New York Dolls Sunday night at the Bluebird and Leonard Cohen last night at Red Rocks. When I’ve brought either of these up to some of my more uncultured friends the reaction has been along the lines of: “Oh, they’re still around/alive?” But yeah, they’re both riding on solid new records and touring like it mattered.

The New York Dolls were possibly the bigger surprise, seeing as Cohen’s shows have been A) bigger and B) generating significant good press and reviews. So when I say I luved it, you’d best believe I luved it, L-U-V. Not only were original members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain totally consummate performers – as were the great younger musicians they’re working with (especially that drummer!) – but they were both charismatic as hell, playing rock and roll like they live it 24-7 – which in fact they just may. They dug into a set that was pretty evenly split between their two 1970’s classics – New York Dolls and In Too Much Too Soon – and their two recent albums, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This and the brand-new ‘Cause I Sez So. Word on the street has it that the two new albums aren’t so hot, but I beg to differ. Not only do they still have significant hook value – catchy riffs didn’t leave the band when Johnny Thunders did – but Johansen’s lyrics are possibly better than ever. I haven’t fully absorbed the new one, which sounds good on one listen, but One Day is pretty damn good to my ears. Regardless, they came on with new songs and old ones interspersed, paying homage even in the new tunes to the 50’s and early 60’s rock and roll classics that were their foodstuff growing up but of course slanting them to a modern sensibility – in fact, my partner who attended with me and didn’t know more than three of their songs couldn’t tell the vintage of songs by listening, only by crowd reaction. I say this to point out that if you don't come in biased toward thinking they're gonna suck, you'll probably be able to really hear the new ones as the fine songs they are. If they make it around again, I strongly suggest catching the show.

Leonard Cohen, on the other hand, will almost certainly not be mounting another tour like the one that wrapped up at Red Rocks Thursday after being rained out on Tuesday. The man is 74 years old, but in energy, in on-stage demeanor, he came on like a man 20 years younger, running on to the stage, dancing/skipping his way off to the encores. His charisma as a serious performer, pulling from his lengthy catalog of classic songs was every bit as strong as Johansen’s trash-rock, glam sensuality. Cohen and his crack band were absolutely stunning, hitting just about every high point of his music spanning back to his 1968 debut and going right up to 2001’s Ten New Songs. Highlights were almost too many to include – but I’ll try. Javier Mas’s intro to “Who By Fire” – itself a terrific performance – made me wonder just how good a full concert of him playing his banduria could be. "Hallelujah" had the entire crowd singing along, and pretty much any time Cohen crouched down by his monitors to deliver a line with more intimacy - as in "Bird on the Wire" or "I'm Your Man" - worked us all over. And no matter how many times he gave the spotlight to others and introduced his terrific band, Cohen was the star. Sounding great, looking fit and energetic, and bringing his autumnal voice that seems to automatically impart wisdom even to his oldest material, he sounded absolutely fantastic throughout the show. Though he’s got a reputation as a gloomy songwriter, he highlighted the humor that makes Cohen much more palatable to me than most songwriters who work in similar areas. For those who were unable to attend – and given that it’s unlikely he’ll tour again – the Live In London CD or DVD packages provide a reasonable facsimile of the experience – very similar song selection and performance quality, but it’s just not the same as being there in the same venue. Live music rules.

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