Now that Leonard Cohen is acknowledged as a musical treasure, it's fascinating to revisit this performance from a time when his star was in its early ascendancy.
The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was a glorious disaster – 600,000 starving youngsters stranded in a field with barely enough facilities for 100,000 – with conditions exacerbated by the "free festival" revolutionary faction, leading to a fractious atmosphere that saw quieter performers like Joni Mitchell and Kris Kristofferson brutally heckled. Cohen was one of the last acts to play, shortly after Hendrix had set fire to the stage; but his zen-like calm and gently paternalistic attitude – he was already 35, twice the age of most of the audience – seemed to mesmerise the crowd right from the first bars of "Bird on a Wire". Backed by a loose aggregation of session musicians known as The Army, Cohen interspersed poems, aphorisms and background details among his songs, revealing for instance how "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong" was written as he was "coming off amphetamines and pursuing a blonde lady that I met in a Nazi poster". Accompanied here by Murray Lerner's documentary DVD of the event, it's a remarkable, gripping performance.
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