Mahalia Jackson Theater’s stage is a nice big one, and we can roll right onto it from the trucks, but because of the volume of our stuff, we have to stagger the unloading. One local crew member (and there’s always one) informed me that we had too much equipment. Faced with such a majesty of knowledge I voiced my own presumption: ‘Ah right, you’re the expert are you?’
‘I’ve been in music for 42 years,’ he returned.
‘You’ve been working on this tour for 42 years?’ The void of speech to follow was a relief. It is irksome when the mechanical opinion of someone, no matter how experienced, is proffered as canonical after a very brief meeting. It’s kinda like hiring a moving company to inform you that you own too many things. It might be true, but be thankful for the paycheque, I know I am.
Before the backline could be unloaded, the stacks of audio equipment needed to be broken up and I got to operate an electric chain hoist, something I’ve never done before. My involvement in the process: pressing a rocker switch on a ‘pickle’, a very complicated, hand-held remote switch, sporting near-indecipherable nomenclature; I am proud to have quickly mastered the controls with startling ease.
Having mastered the pickle, I was also entrusted with the task of looping spansets underneath cases and lifting them. After ten minutes I felt like Roadieman, the finest jerk-of-all trades.
Once the backline was tipped out, I dug a nest in the scrubland of flightcases and was able to unpack my guitars, clean them up, change some strings, test the spare amps and pedals, all before it was time to lay carpets. I like when that happens. There’s something to be said for the concept of ‘hurry up and wait’; if you can find something to do, do it.
Today’s soundcheck was a little longer than usual; perhaps the acoustic conditions of the room weren’t favourable, because there were more requests for monitor changes on stage than is the norm. The band rehearsed Banjo and La Manic, and Alex was asked to play a solo in Anyhow, thus extending the song slightly.
At a point in the second set of the evening, I realised I hadn’t been taking any notes. I’ve been using the same setlist since Tampa, and there were no surprises tonight. In fact I didn’t make any notes at all on the performance until Hallelujah, which you will see is pretty late in the gig. One man in the audience was so enthused by the number, he voiced his support, mid-song, as if encouraging Leonard to score a goal in some fast-paced sports match.
After Take This Waltz, there was some confusion. Roscoe, seated on a stool, something he doesn’t normally do in that part of the set, voiced an announcement on our closed-circuit speaker system: if he moved from his spot, he would likely be sick. Indeed, he took an illness, awfully quickly, paling like a spectre. For an encore he managed So Long Marianne, but during the song looked worse and worse. When the song ended he needed to leave and quickly. He rushed off and the rest I’ll leave to your imagination.
With no bass player, the easiest song to pull out of the book is If It Be Your Will, performed by the Webb Sisters and Neil. But it seemed Roscoe was unable to return, so the cogs and wheels of the Cohen mind whirred and Leonard called a few songs which could be presented without a bassist. To follow were Save The Last Dance, Going Home, and finally Closing Time.
At the time of writing, I’m not entirely sure if, as when Jim Morrison couldn’t play and Ray Manzarek took on Doors double duty, Neil played bass lines on the keys, but the songs were received well and not a mention was made on stage of Roscoe’s situation, save for the obvious hole in the set where a bass player usually stands.
As there is always a paramedic on duty at a concert, medical attention was not far away and I heard from witnesses that Roscoe was given an anti-nausea jab and a drip for fluids, then taken to hospital as precaution. But he was let out within hours and early reports say he’s going to be fine.
And there we have it: in the space of a few minutes, we went from business as usual to holy shit. It’s unfortunate for poor Roscoe that he had to be the epicentre of a tremor, but it makes for more interesting reading than the statistical frequency of guitar usage which might have been the yawn-fest of today’s entry.