Standing under a full moon, wrapped in the arms of friends, singing Hallelujah along with a master of music and seduction. Some moments in life you just know will stay with you forever, waiting to be unpacked when you need a smile, or told to your children and grandchildren and anyone else who’ll listen. The concert Leonard Cohen gave at Hanging Rock on the weekend was definitely one such moment.
It all began with a press release. One of the sort that I’d normally delete from my email with barely a glance, but this time the words “Cohen” and “Hanging Rock” caught my eye. A friend had told me several times about this magic concert where the old blues master performed outdoors in the Perth hills. I forwarded him the email with some non-committal comment, and from there an epic three-state road trip for an afternoon of music emerged. Boy am I glad I read that press release.
We rounded the corner of the queue of cars waiting to get in to the gig and spotted the majestic Hanging Rock looming out of nowhere (though I’m still not sure which bit of it was “hanging”). We carted in our picnic, our blankets, our inflatable couches (best invention ever) and, yes, our expectations. And they were more than met. Dan Sultan was first up; his easy-on-the-eyes qualities and crooning distracting from the heat of the afternoon sun. He performed just five songs, to the disgust of the group next to us who had apparently travelled from Fitzroy to see him.
Next on stage was flame-haired songstress Clare Bowditch. She charmed the crowd with her typically frank lyrics and gorgeous tunes. Her admiration for Cohen has been clear through recent interviews and her tweets, and it appeared she was every bit as impressed by the natural venue as was the audience.
After a short break (and a foray to the merch tent with its intriguing stock – tote bags and ties, anyone?) Paul Kelly brought his considerable talent to the stage. For an artist who is such a big name in his own right, who is about to start on a national tour where he plays 100 songs over four nights at each stop, I was impressed by the subtle and elegant way he took to the support role. His opening gambit was From Little Things Big Things Grow, which I last heard live as the finale of John Butler’s Union of Soul tour (which also featured Bowditch). From there Kelly captivated the audience with song after song. He closed with his alternative take on the Christmas song, How To Make Gravy, and the crowd sighed and applauded and cried for more.
More came in the form of the still-sprightly Cohen bounding onto centre stage in his trademark dark suit and fedora. And he was magically, utterly seductive from the moment he opened his mouth, calling us friends and welcoming us to this sacred place, until the last echo of his three-hour set. Highlights for me were the previously mentioned performance of Hallelujah and a spine-tingling spoken word version of Thousand Kisses Deep (during which the crowd caused Cohen to get the giggles). And I’ve still got So Long Marianne running round my head, four days later. The outdoor setting, Hanging Rock lit up behind the stage, stars overhead – it all added to the magic of a perfect, unforgettable night. The man is charming, every bit a gentleman, a master of performance and a brilliant wordsmith. If he gets back to Australia, I’ll be there.