“We Shall Not Be Moved”: Listen back to Leonard Cohen’s chaotic concert in Tel Aviv, 1972
Leonard Cohen was not a man to be silenced or restricted. The poetic mind of Cohen, though able to convey the mysteries of the human condition, is equally unable to comprehend the restrictions of its society. It would lead to trouble at his concert in Tel Aviv, 1972.
Cohen and his band The Army arrived in Israel four months into their tour and weary from the travelling. Yet they arrived to a country that had only recently recovered from the Six Day War and was still finding their fight as a sovereign nation. It would not be the regular stunning performance Cohen was becoming known for.
The country was charged with the remnants of war when Cohen arrived on one bright and breezy summer day. Cohen and The Army had become accustomed to performing in the grandest theatres but in Tel Aviv, they were set to perform in a gymnasium, The Sports Hall in Tel Aviv.
The odd venue wasn’t the only strange thing about the performance. When the band members arrived at the venue and began to walk around they were told in no uncertain terms that there would be no seats directly in front of them. Instead, attendees would have to use the bleachers that lined the sides of the venue and would suffer the violent consequences of not abiding by the rules.
Whether it was actually to protect the newly lacquered floor or was just an authoritarian relic of the war, the venue’s floor was lined by an army of “Men in Orange” who were acting as security. It was a bizarre situation and not one Cohen or the Army felt comfortable about. But road-weary and ready to perform they complied, for the meantime at least.
It was not a great gig. Cohen and the Army were struggling to connect with the audience, hell, they could barely see them. About 10 minutes in on the recording below, you can hear Cohen begin to direct his songs directly at the Men in Orange, whom he called The Machine. The moment passes and Cohen subsides if only for a little while.
25 minutes later and Cohen was again failing to connect with the audience and this time he suggests the audience defy the rules and come closer to the stage. This was not a great move. The Men in Orange soon began enacting their violent retributions and were seen to be heavily beating the audience members who made their way to the floor. “Okay,” Cohen says, “I know you’re just trying to do your job, but you don’t have to do it with your fists!”
Chaos breaks out as Cohen begins to try and make peace with the security. He sings ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ in an attempt to calm proceedings but by this juncture, the concert was lost to the violence that was breaking out around them. Cohen and the Army made their way backstage and huddled together unharmed.
The recording below fades out to yells and screams as the chaos begins to envelop the venue. It makes for a chilling recording and an accurate picture of the turmoil that Israel was in back in 1972. It may go down as one of the worst concerts Leonard Cohen was ever a part of but it’s intrigue is undeniable.
Listen below to Leonard Cohen’s chaotic concert in Tel Aviv, 1972.