To the End of Love
This column was first published in the March 2015 issue of Metro.
I had never understood how fans could cry hysterically over their favourite artists, but when Leonard Cohen bounded onto the stage in the Vector Arena in 2009 singing “Dance Me to the End of Love”, there was an undeniable lump in my throat. My eyes welled, and a single tear may have been shed.
I’ve been trying to remember what makes great shows great. I think it’s a combination of venue, performance, the crowd, timing, and your personal history with the artist. Kanye West was a much bigger artist when he came to Vector in 2008, but nothing he can do will come close to his 2006 show at the St James. A-Track was still his DJ, there was the live local string section, a surprise appearance by Common, and a real sense that this was something special. He’d just released Late Registration, and we all knew we were watching someone on the verge of superstardom. The St James gave the show an intimacy; it was a moment.
50 Cent at the Mt Smart Supertop in 2003 was something different altogether, but remains a favourite. It’s not like 50 was a particularly great performer, nor was the venue ideal, but in 2003 there was no bigger star on the planet.
Before him, New Zealand rap fans often had to make do with acts coming here 10 years too late. But when 50 came, my mates and I were still jokingly yelling out “G-g-g-g-g-g-unit!” as we’d walk to 4:20 on K’ Rd. We were still dancing to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” in da club, and it was the first time I’d seen the usually staunch Auckland rap crowd lose their shit.
It’s for similar reasons that Kendrick Lamar at The Powerstation in 2012 was so special. He came just months after good kid, m.A.A.d city was released, and the frenzied crowd spat every line to every song, mixtape and album cuts, along with him.
But Leonard Cohen in 2009 was a dream, a religious experience. Years before in the Onehunga High School library, I found a thin and battered book of his poetry, titled The Energy of Slaves. Flicking through the pages, I stopped on a poem that began with, “I left a woman waiting,” and ended on, “whatever happened to my eyes, happened to your beauty”. I was hooked.
I devoured every page of that book, and when I returned it, I would Google his lyrics and read them for hours. I’d swoon over lines from “Take This Longing”, “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”, “Chelsea Hotel #2”, “In My Secret Life”, and more. I never thought I’d see this man live, and here he was, crooning the words I’d read a thousand times.
I remember being overwhelmed and thinking, “This must be what it’s like for those hysterical fans.” On February 23, my favourite artist of the past six years will be performing at Vector Arena. I hope my friends and I will look back and talk about “that time we saw Drake”, in the same way we’ve talked about Kanye, 50, Kendrick and Leonard Cohen.