Do you recall the very first time you went to a concert? If you’re around 30 you should remember how things looked different back then: no smartphones recording the gig, no hd cameras shooting torrents of pictures, no instant sharing on any social media. I remember how I used to feel as I was starting out seeing my music idols live; after the show I felt so excited I couldn’t stop talking about it. The following days I was struggling with my mates to remember the setlist or any other detail just to string that state of excitement out. It was all about keeping memories alive, as there are pearls that should never be forgotten.
Leonard Cohen, 80 years old last September, comes back with a collection of stunning souvenirs from the “grand tour” following his critically acclaimed 12th studio album “Popular Problems” (2014) and a DVD, “Live in Dublin” (2015). The album serves a memory purpose, giving his fans a chance to remember a bunch of songs from the Old Ideas Tour (2012-2013) that were rarely or only once played live. Some of them are even recorded during his legendary sound-checks, like the opening “Field Commander Cohen”. As we’re instantly brought back to the 1979 tour namesake album, the Canadian singer gives us back a fresh version of one of the most complex songs he has ever written and gets the band warmed up for the show. The brief proverbial reggae-intermezzo downplays the atmosphere of this hyperbolic biographical song. A souvenir of what might happen in case you stumble across one of his pre-concert rehearsals. Ensuing title-track “I Can’t Forget” highlights the Unified-Heart Band’s talent: the instrumental lines weave a harmonised web sustaining Cohen’s timbre and the female backing vocals (performed by longstanding collaborator Sharon Robinson and the young Webb Sisters). “I can’t forget but I don’t remember what” he sings and eventually responds to his audience’s affectionate applause: “thank you […] for remembering”.
For those who love the more exquisitely romantic ballad-writer, some classics are included. “Light as the Breeze” is brought back to life straight from dreamy “The Future” (1992) and “Night Comes On” leads the listener to a nocturnal peaceful minuet. While these two songs are performed without any remarkable peculiarity, “Joan of Arc” is undoubtedly the most astonishing and touching live version on the album. Cohen is at his best as he duets with Hattie Webb: his vocal profoundness makes him sounding like a timeless storyteller who slides across alternating banduria and violin solos.
What furthermore will attract the fans is a group of unreleased songs beginning with a cover of “La Manic”, a tribute to the Canadian chansonnier Georges Dor. An exclusive gift to the public of Quebec City, the song is a poetic love letter from a construction worker to his beloved far-away woman. It sounds impressive here how Cohen capitalises on his crooner attitude evoking a whole tradition of French mother-tongue singers at the same time. The second cover, “Choices” by Billy Yates, brings some American country landscapes in, along with a catchy chorus and the impeccable violin played by Alexandru Bublitchi.
Getting through the genres that influenced his music the most, Cohen has some fun with his band giving himself over a couple of blues tunes, “Never gave nobody trouble” and “Got a little secret”, the latter standing out for its final humorous line: “It’s kind of chilly in your kitchen/It must be 10 below/I bought a ticket to Jamaica/I guess I lost it in the snow”. The conclusive “Stages” is actually a more up-tempo extract from masterwork “Tower of Song”, preceded by a Cohen-typical self-ironic introduction. The accurate inspection of the different phases “a man goes through in relation to his allure to the opposite sex” is priceless and hilarious.
“Can’t forget” is definitely not the album I would suggest to someone who’s out to get into the Canadian poet’s music for the first time. It is actually one last celebration of an almost incessant massive live experience begun in 2008 and stretching to this latest 2012-2013 “grand tour”. As shown on the cover of the album itself, the artist can now finally have some rest on his turquoise wooden chair and admire his replica souvenirs in an open-air amphitheatre. The applause from the audience is once again warm and affectionate: thank you, Mr. Cohen. We won’t forget.
The full track-listing for ‘Can’t Forget : A Souvenir of the Grand Tour’ is as follows…
Field Commander Cohen (Live at Denver)
I Can’t Forget (Live at Copenhagen)
Light as the Breeze (Live at Dublin)
La Manic (Live at Quebec)
Night Comes On (Live at Monchengladbach)
Never Gave Nobody Trouble (Live at Odense)
Joan of Arc (Live at Quebec City)
Got a Little Secret (Live at Auckland)
Choices (Live at Christchurch)
Stages (Live at Sydney)