These days, it seems there are legions of older gents concertizing like nobody’s business.
There’s Bob Dylan, who’s 71. There’s 79-year-old Willy Nelson. And there is Tony Bennett, who is 86.
For my money, there is no cooler grey-haired cat than Leonard Cohen. The 78-year-old’s lyrics are witty and profound. His voice has aged into a worn-leather bass that, emanating from well-like depths, might pass for the weary voice of God.
And Cohen — who last night in Victoria was fedoraed and nattily suited as usual — radiates a hip Euro-sensibility that’s tough to beat. Backed by his crack nine-piece band, the bolo-tied one played for a sold-out crowd of 6,000.
He launched the show with Dance Me to the End of Love. Buoyed by Alexandru Bublitchi’s violin flourishes, the song is a passionate celebration of carnal delights.
“I don’t know when we’ll meet again,” Cohen solemnly announced to the crowd afterwards. “No one knows that. But I can promise you tonight we’ll give everything we got.”
The Future followed, its brisk tempo and chirpy Hammond licks offset by the song’s grim prediction of fascistic happenings. “I’ve seen the future – and it’s murder!” sang Cohen who changed the song’s infamous reference to crack and anal sex to “crack and careless sex.”
Cohen performed for a polite, reverent audience at Save-on-Foods arena last night. He certainly wasn’t going through the motions. He often cradled the microphone, eyes half closed. Sometimes he sank to his knees. Unlike the late-career Frank Sinatra, he appears not to use a teleprompter. The sound balance was terrific — the best I’ve heard at the arena.
It was a good night.
Impressively, he’s been touring the globe regularly since 2008. And that followed a 15-year absence.
In between visits to this city (he was last here in 2010), Cohen has recorded a strong and compelling album. Old Ideas takes an unflinching look at mortality — not surprising for an artist approaching his ninth decade. For this seasoned troubadour, it’s not new territory. However, the road’s end seems ever closer.
From Old Ideas we heard The Darkness, which emanates a tail-end of life vibe. In the song, which was well received, Cohen portrays a man who’s lost his taste for life’s physical pleasures. “I don’t miss it baby, I got no taste for anything at all.”
Afterwards, the singer poked fun at all his doom and gloom, remarking: “I go to the mirror, I look at my melancholy face. And I say to myself, lighten up Cohen for Christsakes.”
From the new disc we also heard Show Me the Place.
Here Cohen portrays a humble supplicant who asks: “Show me the place where you want your slave to go.”
Seraphic vocal harmonies, contrasted by Cohen's gritty timbre, made for a powerful performance.
One of the concerts most moving sequences was his recitation, with minimal accompaniment, of of A Thousand Kisses Deep. “The band is playing Auld Lang Syne but the heart will not retreat,” intoned the wise one.
Cohen produced a funny little keyboard for the Tower of Song. After he played a simple solo, the crowd applauded.
“Are you humouring me, because I’m an old man?" he asked, smiling.
This was followed by another highlight, Suzanne, with Cohen accompanying himself with arpeggiated figures on his acoustic guitar.
Just like the old days.
Performing with Cohen is his excellent band: keyboardist Neil Larsen, bassist Roscoe Beck, guitarist Mitch Watkins, drummer Rafael Gayol and Javier Mas on acoustic guitar, bandurria, laud and archilaud. Singing impeccable background, once again, were Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters (Charley and Hattie).
What: Leonard Cohen
When: Wednesday night
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Rating: 4 (out of five)
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