Leonard Cohen Tour Diary — San Jose to Calgary

NOVEMBER 7 — SAN JOSE SHOW

It’s cool out this morning. Clouds! WEATHER! Since arriving in the US, it’s been clear skies here, blue vastness there, a total absence of meteorological activity. The break in the non-weather is welcome, as is the finding of a well-known coffee establishment a couple of blocks up the street.

Having scoffed a belly’s full of tea and apples amidst the ubiquitous branding, I stroll back to the hotel to make ready for the day of work. While crossing a street, I see along its predestined path to my right, through  haze, a bridge of tarmac and concrete cresting and disappearing into the bright gloom. Typical of the cities we’ve visited thus far, the streets are wide and straight; an exception lies near the hotel, its wavy lines centrally divided by a raised haven of palms.

Neither the weather nor scenery matter — the gig is in a windowless hockey arena, home of the NHL’s Sharks. Upon arrival, it appears that Saint Paul has received wind of the missing wodka. With good spirits he listens to my explanation that we were in fact, doing HIM a favour, saving him from the perils of an alcoholic, bean-stock spiral. Regardless, the collection plate was passed among the guilty parishioners and Saint Paul was appeased later in the day by an exact replica of the missing sacramental juice.

Tonight’s show began fifteen minutes later than posted. This is to become a dull, reappearing factor, but we certainly don’t want a repeat of L.A.’s oddity. Nearing the end of the show, we assumed LC would take it past the curfew, but he caught us off guard by finishing pretty close to the mark. On a typical show night, come the dying minutes, some of my equipment would be packed away, but tonight I was unprepared for the end, remaining powered up, unpacked, and ready to tune. The little bump in the road added perhaps five minutes to my load-out, but we likely gained ten by LC not extending the show.

NOVEMBER 8 — ARRIVE SEATTLE

I have few notes on today — it was a long drive, and at around 7pm, we reached Seattle. When I moved into my room, preparing to continue some work on the novel, I looked out the window; in a gap between buildings, I see a body of water. Beyond the water, land rises again. Beyond that still, sharp silhouettes of cloud inhale and exhale in the orange sky’s seamless transition to a light blue. Above the first star, blue darkens into black where night waits to cover us in hope for a new day.

NOVEMBER 9 — SEATTLE SHOW

Have you ever bought an item from a famous Swedish furniture retailer? Have you ever began gaily assembling the purchased item, and upon nearing completion, realised you’ve made a simple error which has gone unchecked until an impasse of horrific countenance bars any further progress? That’s what happened today.

One of my jobs is to ensure the stage carpets are installed correctly: aligned with the centre of the stage, and taped down. It was only hours after I had done so when Sound Engineer Mark noticed something was little off… It seems in the absence of a visible centre-mark on the stage, I laid the foundation-stone of carpet a colossal five feet off-centre. You see, of the many lights in the trusses, there is a particular one which I reference every day to calculate Leonard’s position. A chalked centre-line on the stage is a good guideline, but what often happens is, once the trusses go up into the air, they can shift left or right a few inches. So aligning the carpets to the light in the sky is a sure-fire way of getting everything ‘bang-on.’ That is, when you reference the correct light; many of them are similar in appearance to the non-lighting engineer.

With little time left before LC was due on stage to do his soundcheck, we scrambled to right the problem. EVERYTHING was taken off the carpets — monitors, risers, microphones, cables, backline; all of it. The carpets were then moved into the correct position and everything was reset. In the end, it took only an extra thirty minutes; a pretty astounding effort of pull-together-ness, but it was thirty minutes no one wanted to spend righting a silly mistake. I put my hand up and blamed myself; there was little else for it.

Being a forgiving person, I expected to be forgiven and I was for the most part; a professional team should understand that even colossal mistakes begin humbly, and everyone makes humble mistakes. There was an incident in which a small spat of name-calling resulted in some factual retaliation of my own, but no one’s perfect. Just like fitting a furniture panel with the little holes up instead of down, the side-effects and follow-on symptoms of simple mistakes only seem to increase when blind trust is placed in someone NEVER to screw up. I gladly accept, nay, insist on second opinions at times.

The audio department bore the brunt of the equation, being held up by the thirty minutes, but they crossed the finish line in time to accept LC on stage as normal. As far as I’m aware, the man could have been unaware. However I am not so blind as to assume the news of the fuck-up did not spread like summer fires in a drought.

Other technical instances on my end of things included the biasing of one of the Fender Supersonics. I installed new 6V6 valves in the amp, setting grid potentials such that the cathode resistors showed the required voltages as per Fender’s schematic. Mitch’s MXR Dyna Comp has an issue with the DC jack; pressure causes the power to be interrupted, but is otherwise stable if its input cable is run a particular way. Further investigation will be required in Portland, owing to the shortage of time today. Some klutz got the carpets wrong. On the smaller-scale end of maintenance, I changed a set of strings, and created a little ‘hood’ for Mitch’s GT-3 display – one of the lights above him reflects so brightly off the LDC panel, it cannot be read at times. Now if only he was five feet to the left…

Onwards and upwards. After another delayed start, the gig goes ahead as usual. The song Democracy gets a good cheer, as it has in a few places during the run-up to, and in the wake of the nation’s deciding of a president.

NOVEMBER 10 — PORTLAND, DAY OFF

Red & yellow leaves blow in the cool breeze while a man and a real live alpaca (might have been a llama) sit outside a shop on a patch of fake grass. Walking the streets of a walking town, a few people along my travels ask for bus fare — seventy-five cents in particular. I wonder with such specific value, is this some sort of code? Are they trying to sell me something? Am I supposed to sell them something? Am I to understand it is an invitation to engage in some sort of sinful sex-romp in which boxing gloves and anvils are utilised? If so, where do I sign?

Portland may be perfect for perambulation, but it does seem to have cracks of human problems. A pair of individuals camp out in front of a coffee shop with a cardboard sign explaining they are homeless, and need twenty-five dollars to get home. Regardless, a mere five bucks bought some genuine gratitude.

Around every corner in Portland, exists the ability to temporarily quench material thirst; an activity worthy of inclusion when highlighting humankind’s head-cradling plight is my own ‘retail therapy.’ I bought a couple of video games for the bus, an insulated tea flask, some posh tea, and a calligraphy pen, cuz that’s how this fuckin’ gansta rolls. Add to that a submarine sandwich and some writing, and this day is in the can.

NOVEMBER 11 — PORTLAND SHOW

An early start this morning; it seems on a regular work day, I do more things that aren’t related to backline than backline. Subsequently, the equipment for which I am responsible has not received the attention I would much rather lavish upon it. So this morning I spent some time pottering about, changing strings and investigating Mitch’s MXR pedal — the DC socket itself is not what I would call repairable — it can be lived-with for now, but a replacement socket would be a nice idea at some point.

From where I hail, the eleventh of November is Remembrance Day. Leonard tells me that in Canada it used to be called Armistice day, and that in the USA it was called Remembrance Day until the Korean War, after which it became Veterans Day. Growing up in Canada it was a big thing (for me, anyway) and where I live now, in Northern Ireland, the poppy has had the misfortune of becoming (to some) a political symbol. The latter situation sickens me somewhat, but I shall say no more.

Regardless of what you call it, I put wheels into motion today that we should observe two minutes of silence at 11am. For some reason, by the time the dude with the megaphone called for the silence those two minutes were halved into one, which I thought was a bit mean, but felt there was little use in fighting it once announced. Unfortunately, the riggers in the roof did not get the message and the single minute was hardly silent at all. A very poor show if you ask me.

I am happy to report the carpets are lined correctly today, and Lighting Crew Chief Steve (‘you can call me Schteffan’) shakes my hand for accepting in good cheer the ribbing over the tapestry mishap  in Seattle. It’s nice to know others understand perfection is a myth, and a royal mistake is anyone’s to make. Perhaps there is something to this karma thing.

I am beginning to miss home, despite it only being a couple of weeks since leaving it. I admit I haven’t been looking at the calendar much, simply trusting that the information received on day-sheets and itineraries tells me where I am. The day happens, it’s done, and the next one follows. It feels like the sixteen days at home after Europe wasn’t quite enough; for what, I’m not sure. With forty-or-so days before I board a plane bound for home, it feels like there’s more than just the Rocky Mountains to cross.

During tonight’s show, I am struck by an observation; y’all don’t sing here much, do you? In Europe (if the long-time reader recalls) I wrote of the champion singalongs we experienced in many places. In the US, you certainly clap and cheer, but you don’t sing. Jones wants to know why.

NOVEMBER 12 — VANCOUVER SHOW

After an unearthly 7am rise from slumber at the Canadian border, a teensy bit more sleep was gained on the final approach to Rogers Arena, Vancouver. The load-in was later than hoped, and we are in a bit of a rush to get everything ready for the normal soundcheck time.

It’s a good day for sarcasm, and for a piece of equipment to malfunction. Javier’s spare Princeton amp suffers from ‘lights on, no one home’ syndrome; it’s not a huge task to discover its 5AR4 rectifier heater circuit to be open. Whereas amplifier company Marshall are famed for going ‘one louder,’ I would suggest that Fender’s legacy will be ‘one cheaper,’ with their inclusion of a printed circuit board (PBB) mounted fuse, which, according to the Princeton’s schematic, is an ordinary fuse. But it isn’t. It is about the size of a quarter-watt resistor, and will require as much effort to change as would a resistor on a PCB. The inclusion of a fuse in the 5AR4 rectifier’s heater circuit is a sensible idea, but why Fender hasn’t allowed for an easily changeable fuse (like the power transformer’s primary fuse on the chassis) one can only speculate in the Realms of Cheapskate. I shan’t be lifting the PCB from its mountings in order to extricate the dead component; instead, I shall hard-wire the offending leg of the power transformer’s 5V secondary to the filament tag of the valve socket, via a REGULAR fuse, fixed into the circuit by means of an inline fuse holder, and on to the reservoir capacitor. Shame shame shame, Fender. All the same, I believe the ’65 Princeton to trump the Supersonic in sound quality, but that’s a bit like saying I like kiwis more than bananas; it’s just me.

With everything else in good working order, we still have the requirement for a show, and we’ve pulled together very well today; when loading in, we were two hours behind the usual schedule, and we’ve made it happen in time without killing many of each other.

Of a happy note, LC pretty much sticks to the script tonight. There aren’t any surprise songs and the order printed on paper seems to follow the real thing. Not so happy, many of us are very tired, having just done the only city-to-city hop of the tour’s leg. We have become accustomed to days of leisure between shows and one must follow the claim of tiredness with the admission of being a pussy.

NOVEMBER 13 — TRAVEL TO CALGARY

As if we have fallen asleep during a theatre set-change, the morning scene rolling outside the bus has transitioned from the sun-soaked, velvety mountains of Utah, to a coniferous, bristled world, floured in snow — the wilds of mountainous British Columbia.

A grand old hotel sits on the shore of a grey, cold water. This could be Three Valley Gap, with its ‘heritage ghost town.’ We travel along a snowy, narrow vein of two ways, the Trans Canada Highway, a national roadway of almost five thousand miles. A light snow falls from the world above, swirling in the wake of air left by ‘Bus One’ ahead.

The world outside is a photo negative of our time in Texas. The entrance to our hotel in Austin was arched with painted stone blocks of contoured face. Time laid shades of dust wherever it could find a hold on the stones, transitioning them in shade from black to white. They had not seen a duster in what could have been decades. Here in BC, it is the opposite; white powder invades pockets of vertically uneven black rock, creating a sojourn of stark contrast under a solid grey sky. Icicles hang from walls of living stone; creeping teeth awaiting to envelop their prey.

If arriving in Calgary at 5pm is considered a day off, then it is the first of three days off before the show here. Two of those three days are undisputedly days off. However if you consider the first day, that of a day ostensibly beginning at 5pm, to be a non-day (or perhaps a travel day) then the previous sentence holds no water and we only have two days off here, in which case one must disregard the very utterance of the number/word ‘three’ and plant in one’s mind a forty-eight hour continuance of approaching-zero temperatures and grey snow.

Next time, see where the wind blows us on a couple of days off, a Calgary show, some Edmontoni-onium and some Saskatchatoon action.

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5 Responses to Leonard Cohen Tour Diary — San Jose to Calgary

  1. Velvet says:

    I was at the Calgary show; I hate that it would seem North Americans refuse to participate in sing alongs. I was singing and cheering loudly, much to the amusement of those around me. On occasion, a fellow behind me would join in, but no one else seemed very keen on the idea. It would seem that in order to enjoy a lively audience, one needs to hop across the pond. Looks like if there is ever a second chance for me to see another show, I will definitely be making the journey! By the way; thanks for all your hard work. From my seat, I often found when LC was tucked away behind Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters, watching what you were doing was pretty cool and holy crap, are you fast! I know there are multiple guitar changes, but I never really considered how many instruments you actually work with. Anyway, good luck with the rest of the tour!

  2. Jon says:

    And so the journey continues. Thanks as always LB for taking us along with you.

  3. Pingback: Mar 24: Memphis, Orpheum Theatre | No Ideas

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