Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (Sony CD/DVD)

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Leonard Cohen: So Long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (Sony CD/DVD)

“We have a fire on stage. If there’s any firemen in the area . . . “ This isn’t an announcement you hear too often at rock festivals -- but nothing was beyond possibility at the volatile Isle of Wight event in 70 when non-ticketholders stormed the site, the enraged promoter abused them for being ungrateful pigs and 600,000 concert goers watched artists as diverse as Miles Davis, the Doors and Tiny Tim.

At 4am on the final night Leonard Cohen -- facing down an audience which had just seen Hendrix and a stage burning -- went out with his small band (Charlie Daniels on fiddle) and a collection of poetic songs.

Cohen, looking more like a ragged and sweating Dylan than the dapper gent we know today, knew he was up against it: the crowd had earlier booed and bottled Kris Kristofferson. Yet the slightly dazed Cohen wasn’t intimidated, and delivered a quiet, moving set which took the mood right down and soothed savage breasts.

It was an extraordinary performance and although some of it seems slightly odd today (his improvised lyrics and gentle requests to see matches lit, the cryptic quips and poems) he managed to bring poetics, humour and calm to a wet and angry crowd. And some country-rock.

The DVD takes you into that quagmire of seething rage and barely suppressed explosiveness, and right up close to Cohen’s slightly nervous but controlled features -- as well as including recent observations from Joan Baez, Kristofferson and Judy Collins, and people in the audience on the day.

Cohen was at least a decade older than his audience, and wiser: when he says, “One day we’re going to have this land for our own” he qualifies it by noting “We’re not strong enough yet, you can‘t fool yourselves“. As a way of calming people and getting them to realise their limitations, it was masterful.

As is his music, a set of familiar songs (Susanne at a funereal pace, Bird on a Wire, Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye) and those he had yet to record (among them Famous Blue Raincoat).

The CD offers his whole set, spoken word sections included, but it is the 40 year old footage of his appearance, the hushed audience and the strange times which is more compelling.

Quiet was the new loud.

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Your Comments

Philip Matthews - Nov 16, 2009

What a stunning version of Suzanne. Thanks for putting that up.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - Nov 16, 2009

Thanks Graham - well, he looks kinda stoned and sounds almost depressive, but I'm sure was neither. What it does do is remind us he was a poet first up, who took to the guitar as a way of getting of getting his muse out of a Canadian literary ghetto, a backwater, and took it to the world.

terrylev - Nov 19, 2009

I was there that night. Miles Davis played with hs back to the audience, Joni Mitchell called them/us a "bunch of tourists" and Kris Kristoffersen who had been booed off the stage two nights before was welcomed as a returning hero. You couldn't see Hendrix because he was totally surrounded through his set by cameramen.
Yje knockout act of all was Emerson Lake and Palmer and the Moody Blues were (without doubt) confined to a studio for ever after.

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