Neil Larsen – The Impeccable (& Nearly Invisible) Leonard Cohen Keyboardist

Those Rare, Unconfirmed Sightings Of Neil Larsen During The Leonard Cohen World Tour

While membership in any backup band dooms all but the most flamboyant to semi-invisibility for the duration of the gig, Neil Larsen, who played keyboards throughout the Leonard Cohen World Tour, must be in the running for Best Camouflaged Musician.

Some portion of this obscurity can legitimately be laid at the legs of his musical instruments of choice.

After all, when one is, as per Leonard Cohen’s introduction, “today’s foremost exponent of the Hammond B-3 Organ,” one’s value as a musician depends on remaining within reach of an instrument that, even in its (relatively) lightweight keyboard version1 does not lend itself to, for example, sprinting the length of the stage in emulation of Bruce Springsteen. And since the bulky instruments are typically positioned in the rear of the stage off to one side, the musicians playing them are also delegated to the periphery of the performance area.

Neil Larsen’s existence in (literally) the shadows on stage was, in fact, the inspiration for

The Where’s Neil Larsen? Game

In the standard Leonard Cohen World Tour template, Larsen and his Hammond are situated behind the back-up singers on stage right. Consequently, as demonstrated in the screenshot below, the audience’s view and the view afforded by audience-shot videos of the keyboardist are routinely obstructed.2 As a result, Neil Larsen is the least seen and least recognizable World Tour band member.

Neil Larsen as usually seen in concert (screenshot – Hallelujah, Bratislava)

 

There is the occasional photo taken at the precise angle to catch Mr Larsen but even then destiny, in the form of sunglasses in this case, can thwart easy recognition.

Only when Larsen exchanges his keyboards for the more portable but hardly svelte accordion when performing The Partisan does he reach the front of the stage.

To help rectify this injustice, Cohencentric is proud to offer this excellent shot of Neil Larsen at work. Study it, commit it to memory. This will be on the final exam.

Neil Larsen On Display – Sorta

Dec 11, 2013 Leonard Cohen Adelaide Concert. Photo by Alan Mawhinney

 

As is true of many stars, Leonard Cohen specifies one song to showcase his backup singers and his band, each musician showing off his or her skills in a brief solo. Most often, this song has been “I Tried To Leave You.”

Even here, Larsen is shortchanged. As demonstrated by the video from the 2009 Lisbon show, when Neil Larsen is playing his solo, his hands and the keyboard are unseen until the final bars and even then only the tops of his hands and wrists are visible. Compare that to Bob Metzger’s intense focus on his guitar fingerings or the way Roscoe Beck twists his body around his bass. And what can Larsen do to compare with Rafael Gayol tossing his drumstick above his head – balance the piano bench on his nose?

Leonard Cohen – I Tried To Leave You
Lisbon 2009
Video by albertnoonan

 

It requires, in fact, special efforts to reveal Neil Larsen. As I pointed out in a previous post, The Incidental Highlight Of The Leonard Cohen World Tour “Heart With No Companion,”

… the backup singers[‘] … choreography … was originally inserted to stylishly move the singers, usually stationed directly in front of Neil Larsen, aside to unveil the usually (and lamentably) hidden keyboardist.

This video from the Grand Odense Opry should automatically start just before the pertinent part of the performance.

Leonard Cohen – Heart With No Companion
Odense: Aug 14, 2010
Video from FrostbiteZ1

The next video, which is from the 2009 Weybridge concert, starts at the same point of Heart With No Companion and shows, in addition to the Webb Sisters and Sharon Robinson dancing with arms linked (perhaps in hopes of protecting themselves from being blown away by the gale force winds that day), Neil Larsen’s artistry and adaptability as he performs his solo with his hands – and only his hands – beneath a tarp protecting the instrument3 from the weather.

Leonard Cohen – Heart with No Companion
Weybridge: July 11, 2009

 

Observing this scene, one cannot help but be struck by the notion that this ain’t Neil Larsen’s first rodeo.

Watching World Tour concert videos, starting with the 2009 European shows, however, I became more aware of and impressed by the musicianship of Neil Larsen on keyboards. Those moments in the “Hallelujah” video from the 2008 London concert when Larsen’s organ predominates offer a good example of those skills. The video should automatically begin at the pertinent section.

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
London O2: July 17, 2008

The Impeccable Neil Larsen

Of course, Hard To Find is not equivalent to Not Respected. Certainly Cohen’s introduction of Neil Larsen transmits Cohen’s respect for the keyboardist:

On the keyboards,
a composer,
a teacher,
a model,
in his own right, a renowned bandleader,
a Grammy nominated artist and composer,
today’s foremost exponent of the Hammond B-3 Organ,
a musician’s musician,
the impeccable Neil Larsen

Update: Part 2 of this sequence looks at Neil Larsen’s extra-Cohenistic activities, where his talents and his fans are a tad more visible.

“Neil Larsen and his old lady” posted Nov 22, 2013 by Sharon Robinson via Twitter

 

Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post was shot and shared by Arlene Dick. Thanks go to Ken Chawkin, who recommended the 2008 London performance of Hallelujah as one in which Neil Larsen’s skills are spotlighted.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Mar 29, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com/ Some photos updated.

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  1. A full sized model, including bench and pedalboard, weighs in at 425 pounds/193 kg. (Wikipedia) []
  2. There are exceptions. For example, if a videographer happens to be seated at an acute angle on the left side of the stage or in a balcony, one can see Larsen well enough throughout. I’ve tried tracking these down; unfortunately, YouTube has no category for “Leonard Cohen World Tour Concert, Neil Larsen visible.” []
  3. One notes the musicians lack such protection from the elements. []

One thought on “Neil Larsen – The Impeccable (& Nearly Invisible) Leonard Cohen Keyboardist

  1. So happy to find your new website Allan. Some of the best medicine for me during this strange time we are living in.
    I am trying to find the articles by David Peloquin, if you have published those on here.

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