Friday, October 23, 2009

Leonard Cohen - At The Isle Of Wight 1970

This past year has seen Mr. Cohen return to the stage after a long absence in order to heal the financial wounds caused by an unscrupulous manager, and caused a minor sensation by proving himself not only the consummate songwriter we fans have always known him to be, but also showing that he is one of the great performers left of his generation. A more unlikely rock star there has never been. Cohen is a poet as much as a singer/songwriter, and his shows are always peppered with spoken word interludes. His manner of addressing the audience is also an act of poetry; he is calming, thought provoking and unforgettable - a true gentleman. This release, which contains both the entire concert on CD and a DVD documentary of the event by filmmaker Murray Lerner, is like manna from heaven for Cohen fans - really. The audio portion is exciting to have; it is a concert of Cohen in his prime, focusing largely on his first two albums with a hand-selected band that is just perfect for the occasion. Acoustic guitars, soft keyboards, female backing vocals and Charlie Daniels (yes, that Charlie Daniels) on bass and fiddle supplying beautifully sympathetic backing to Cohen’s somber yet expressive intoning. The real treasure here is the DVD however. Director Murray Lerner is now responsible for four of the best movies about the classic era of rock (Festival, The Who At The Isle of Wight, Message To Love and now this Leonard Cohen film). He seems to have had a knack for being at the right place and capturing the underlying emotional subtext of events. For instance, in Festival, he really gets to the core of the controversy about Dylan going electric, and there exists no better footage of The Who in their prime than that in Lerner’s movie.

In the Cohen film, the back-story is that the festival itself was something of a battleground. Throughout the five days of the festival a large portion of the 600,000 people present were crashing gates, protesting “the man,” booing artists off stage, starting fires, and generally making an English spectacle of themselves. There are interviews included with Kris Kristofferson (who was booed off stage) and Joan Baez, who discuss what a bummer the proceedings were. This is all in contrast to the miracle that was Leonard Cohen’s set. Coming on stage at 4 a.m. on the final night he literally mesmerized the audience with his hypnotic, beatific presence and beautiful music. Watching him work his magic over this toughest of audiences is really quite extraordinary. It is truly through the power of his personality and the greatness of his art that he wins them over. It was the only point in the weekend where the crowd actually shut up and appreciated the music. This film is an essential piece of the puzzle to both understanding the mixed bag that was the festival scene in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but also it offers some of the most compelling evidence of Leonard Cohen’s lasting greatness.

--Paul Epstein

1 comment:

dan said...

Great post to read after seeing the Isle of Wright film.