Leonard Cohen and Amchitka
Reviewed by Audra Schroeder, Fri., Dec. 18, 2009
Leonard CohenLive at the Isle of Wight 1970 (Columbia/Legacy)
Leonard Cohen's Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 should rightly be put in a bottle. That's just prior to Songs of Love and Hate, so the set list is golden, and this historic concert on an island in the English Channel shows off the Canadian poet/prophet at the height of his powers. Cohen's story of his father taking him to the circus before "Bird on the Wire" feeds into the concert itself taking on a Felliniesque pacing. Recordings on the DVD and accompanying CD are almost perfect, the packaging and liner notes stylish and crisp, and interviews with players from the night illuminate the importance and special weight of it all. Faces of rapt audience members, many women shrouded like Virgin Marys, ride tandem with Cohen's religious air, his face serene as he calms a restless festival crowd. "They've surrounded the island," he intones midconcert, as festivalgoers try to break down a fence keeping them from the show. He then slides right into "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye," and there's reverent silence. Dylan never got to that dimension. Another Canadian comes via Greenpeace, who remastered a 1970 concert in Vancouver protesting nuclear testing off the coast of another island, Amchitka, Alaska. The 2-CD set features a folk trinity: Phil Ochs, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. Given the political heaviness of the night, the performances don't carry that weight. Ochs seems reinvigorated, and Taylor's set is short but sweet. Mitchell, however, is in full flame, whether segueing from "Big Yellow Taxi" to "Boney Maroney," previewing songs from Blue, or dueting with Taylor on "Mr. Tambourine Man." As we prepare for a new decade in the wake of a pretty bleak one, these concerts show how innocent it all still was.
(Isle of Wight)