Tea for the Bloggerman

So Long, Montreal — Part Two: He Did Not Come All the Way Home Just to Fool Us
June 30, 2008, 9:21 am
Filed under: Concerts, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Time for part two, are you ready for this? I don’t think you’re ready for this. Proceed at your own caution.

So we arose in the early afternoon on the 25th ready to journey out and explore this strange land we had found ourselves in. We showered, enjoyed a complimentary breakfast, and prepared ourselves. Yanira, being the fashion-nazi she is, was looking forward to seeing the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I had shown her information on the exhibit a week earlier, after recognizing the name while searching for things to do in the city. We had talked briefly about Saint Laurent because he is recently deceased, and Yanira is a devoted follower of him. AND Wednesdays at the museum are half-price admission days. Could it have worked out any better than that?

We called a taxi and had him drive us to the museum. Montreal is such a beautiful city [“it’s like New York and Paris combined!”], lovely weather in June, dotted with outstanding cathedrals and overall nice things. We got out and proceeded to the ticket counter, only to find out that the half-price deal was only after 5pm. Being 2pm, we decided to walk around and come back. We walked down the street, past McGill College where Leonard Cohen studied, and took in what the area had to offer. We also spent some time in a nice bookstore.

Soon we grew hungry and went looking for Asian food. We had a taste for Asian food for some odd reason. Trying a few places without success, we found a shady-looking Vietnamese restaurant with decent prices. We were surprised; it was actually nice inside. We ordered a plate of Pad Thai to share and munched on that while talking. After lunch we walked upstairs from the restaurant to Cheap Thrills, an over-priced used CD/vinyl/bookstore. Excellent selection, but the prices were horrendous. I did find one deal though: a Canadian pressing of Tom Waits’ third album Small Change in MINT condition for $10. Last time I checked on amazon.com these went from $32 and up. I bought that after looking through damn near everything in the store [“I’m going to D-I-E”] and we walked on.

We killed enough time in Cheap Thrills to return to the museum for our discount. We then entered the enormous exhibit full of outfits designed by Saint Laurent, with video monitors showing famous models modeling them (as models are wont to do). I have only recently began to rethink my position on fashion. I used to despise it, but only because of a mental connection I had made between fashion and unimaginative trends. The word “fashion” conjured up images of celebrities wearing the latest designs as a statement of their wealth and importance rather than clothing being a medium for art, and this exhibit has certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities of this medium. Saint Laurent was a visionary, that is for sure.

We spent an hour or two in the museum, made a stop in the boutique to pick up a catalog of the exhibit and some post cards, and left. We hailed a taxi then to take us to the Place des Arts, an area of downtown Montreal designed for festivals and large events. The Place des Arts is flanked on two sides by large concert halls, a third side being occupied by a mall and the Hyatt Regency hotel, and the last side being open for the most part. We got to the Place des Arts, found out which concert hall Leonard would be in, struggled to find an entrance, failed, waited, asked around, found out we had to go underground to get in, went underground, and entered the building.

The theater was extremely nice and we had excellent seats: 10 rows from the front. A reward for being up so early to buy the tickets as they were released. I made my way to the merchandise table to try and nap one of the nifty Leonard Cohen shirts and posters they had for sale, but I was devastated (not really) to find out they did not accept credit cards. After a day in Montreal, the little Canadian money I had had dwindled down to $19, and the cheapest thing for sale was a poster for $20. I returned to my seat, still aflutter over getting to see Leonard, and waited patiently until the lights dimmed.

There are many words and phrases I could use to describe the concert–amazing, breath-taking, awe-inspiring, fantastic, earth-shattering, life-changing–but all seem inefficient to describe the feelings I had when Leonard ran out (yes, ran out!) on stage to the microphone. Everything was simply perfect; I could not ask for more. Leonard’s voice was strong and powerful, and the man had energy to take him through a three hour concert (yes, three hours!) and many encores. His guitarist, Javier Mas, is a genius. His woodwind player had enough energy to destroy our dependence on foreign oil. His backup singers–collaborator Sharon Robinson and the divine Webb Sisters–were beautiful in both appearance and in voice. Leonard and his merry band took us on a journey through nearly all of our favorite songs–from newer gems like A Thousand Kisses Deep, Closing Time, The Future, In My Secret Life, Take This Waltz, Hallelujah (which included a slight variation in one line which I used for the title of this entry)–to old classics like Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Sisters of Mercy, and a stunning rendition of Avalanche which sounded EXACTLY the way it did on the 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate. It was a revelation, a holy experience. I laughed, I wept openly, but most of all I sat in awe of something far larger and much talented than I could ever hope to reach.

And Leonard was in complete control the whole time. He knew what to sing and when to sing it, what to say and when to say it, what do dance and when to dance it. The man danced! The 73 year-old man danced! On more than one occasion! During The Future he did what has been described as Beck-shuffle during the line “and the white man dancing” and as Closing Time finished he skipped across the stage to the curtain, only to be called back by thunderous applause. After three encores, Leonard thanked the people of his home town, sang a tongue-in-cheek version of I Tried to Leave You, recited a prayer with the band, and wished us all a good night. I will never forget that concert.

After it was over (oh, if only it could have gone on forever!) we walked out onto the Place des Arts and hailed a taxi to take us the three blocks to the hotel. There we had the remnants of our Pad Thai noodles, watched part of the documentary “Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen” and went to sleep. Two more days left to go, and the Montreal Jazz Festival was only just beginning.


YouTube clips of the concert:


Closing Time

Take This Waltz (dedicated to the memory of the late poet Irving Layton)



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