Originally Posted by Phantom Stranger Leonard Cohen: Songs From The Road
Leonard Cohen had not had a tour since the early 1990s, enjoying a retirement of sorts from the toil of public performances. Due to monetary issues not of his own doing, he struck back out on the road and performed over 150 dates during extended world touring in 2008 and 2009. Returning to rave reviews, attending one of the concerts was akin to a spiritual experience for many fans. Old in body but young in spirit, the 75-year-old singer's commitment to the shows seemed a parting gift to fans for a lifetime of devotion and admiration.
Did you get a chance to see him perform from the front rows on the world tour at a good venue? Fortunately I was able to attend several shows and enjoy the experience firsthand, but if you did not get the chance, do not despair. Watching this Blu-ray is as close a perfect document of the show as any concert I have seen in high-definition. A remarkably tasteful and restrained edit of various concert performances, twelve songs were picked to showcase on the BD for their power and intensity, which are exactly the same ones found on the CD and DVD package. Image quality is inconsistent from song to song, as each venue posed their own unique challenges for capturing to HD video. In conjunction with the magic of the music though, it fully captures what it was like to attend one of the shows from a premium seat.
The intimate filming style zooms in on Cohen's face as he sings, allowing one to catch the slightest details. What brand of microphone he is using, or the fact that he had a very scruffy beard at the concert in Helsinki, Finland for The Partisan
. Other angles fare less well in terms of resolution and clarity, but the camera rarely strays from the singer outside of the solo instrumentals.
The opening performance of Lover, Lover, Lover
in Israel, under less than ideal shooting conditions, looks the worst of any song on the Blu-ray. For this performance alone the side-shots appear to be from standard-definition cameras. That proves distracting when the image goes soft with a significant drop in resolution. A curious choice it was chosen to open a disc highlighting the best possible video and audio fidelity. Though the rendition is sublime and the audio does sound incredible, as the two audio options given on the BD are phenomenal in quality. Outside of Hallelujah
, taken from the performance at the outdoor Coachella Music Festival, the rest of the songs look more typical of a modern concert shot on HD video under controlled conditions. The artificial lighting does pose a slight challenge at times, leading to blown highlights and clipped whites in the picture. But the bulk of the songs demonstrate excellent depth and sharpness, amply creating the illusion of a window effect through your television display.
One audio option is a full 2-channel LPCM track at 24-bit/96kHz, while the other option is a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack at 24-bit/96kHz. The sound was mastered by legendary mastering engineer Doug Sax, one of the most respected and acclaimed men in the business. The Blu-ray version is far superior in tonality, resolution and transparency in comparison to the sound from either the CD or the DVD, both of which I performed extensive comparisons in preparation for this review. Listening to the Blu-ray is like being at the concert, right at the soundboard with a good set of headphones plugged in. Hear the delicacy and rhythm of Javier Mas' 12-string guitar at work from the right side of the sound stage.
The main concert feature consist of twelve songs from eleven different venues, clocking in at just over 71-minutes. Sony Legacy wisely made the BD region-free and presents the video at the source resolution of 1080i, in its native aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The direct and up-close shots of Leonard Cohen performing, which predominate throughout the feature, were shot on a digital HDTV-camera which explains the resolution. The video is encoded in AVC on a BD-50, though the average video bitrate appears to have been negatively impacted by the audio bandwidth at times.
While no BDInfo scan is available at the present moment, an estimate close to 20 Mbps for the average video bitrate is reasonable based off my observations. Peaks rarely exceed the upper range of the twenties, to allow room for the impressive audio specifications. That does impact the picture quality on occasion, as hints of video noise and artifacting appear during the darker shots. The lack of fast movement on the screen, as the camera trains itself on either Leonard, or his backing singers and band members, precludes macroblocking in the image. Touches of digital video noise creeps into the frame, likely due to the cameras used for production.
Packaged in a standard Blu-ray case, the set also includes a fine booklet featuring extensive liner notes and production information with large photographs. The booklet is identical in content to the one included in the CD/DVD package, but formatted to a bigger size to fit the Blu-ray case. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor for The New Republic, in the liner notes writes an ode to Leonard Cohen and the tour simply titled, The Art Of Wandering. His descriptions are apt and timely observations, as he writes The shows were unforgettable. I saw two of them. They were elegant, witty, warm, dark, and light. The love with which Cohen was met by his audiences was oceanic. Another section is written by Edward Sanders, the producer and person responsible for picking out the twelve performances from the hundreds that were captured on tour. He deftly goes through the reasoning behind each choice in lucid and clear logic. Also included is a mysterious novelty, the Fortune Teller Fish. It is supposed to reveal your emotional state if you follow the directions provided. As they say, your mileage may vary with it.
One bonus feature is included, a short behind-the-scenes documentary called Backstage Sketch that runs slightly over 21-minutes. Created by Lorca Cohen, the daughter of Leonard Cohen, it was shot on the tour using a HD-camera that actually looks better than the main concert footage. Interviews with the band are the primary focus, though glimpses of other songs from the tour are teasingly included. It is encoded in AVC for the video and is also presented in 1080i, with a 2-channel PCM track at 16-bit/48kHz provided. One piece missing that feels conspicuous by its absence, is a direct interview with Cohen himself. Every band member and singer talks in Backstage Sketch except for Cohen. The documentary is still interesting and you do get to hear a decent amount of stories from the tour, from people like Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters.
A superb audio presentation and good enough image make for a fantastic concert to relive on Blu-ray. Several of the songs sound better than ever, such as Heart With No Companion
and Closing Time
. Never have I heard a better live version of Waiting For The Miracle
. The performance of Closing Time
is a raucous and rousing end to the proceedings. It would have been nice to hear a couple of more songs from the vast discography, as the main feature ends leaving you wanting more. Hopefully more material from the world tour is made available in such high quality as this disc in the future. If you are capable of playing Blu-ray discs, the CD/DVD set is a distinctly inferior option in both audio and video quality. Only on the BD can you hear the audio as it was meant to be heard from the original live recordings.
Subtitles available for the Backstage Sketch documentary: