The last time this reviewer saw this much Leonard Cohen music, it was a pain in the arse, literally. The contrast between the old Point Depot that night during an often inspiring three and a half hour marathon tribute set (that resulted in a numb posterior) with the wonderful layout in the new O2 could not have been greater. Hard seats and dubious sight lines have been replaced by an awe-inspiring fully-seated comfortable amphitheatre with precision sound (perhaps not loud enough in the Mars seats) and a sense that finally, here is a purpose built venue where you can shell out top dollar and feel like it’s worth it.
It helps of course that in front of us is an artist who can lay claim to a lifetime’s songwriting catalogue comparable to that of Springsteen, Dylan, Young and Waits. And with Cohen the contradictions and contrasts could not be greater. The first half (act?) a slick, smooth performance (in contract to fellow Canadian Neil Young’s jagged, eclectric, forceful performance at the same venue) was underpinned by his wry sexual one liners, a spiritual songwriter with a lived in insight not bound by religious paranoia or repression. Whatever about his great band (more on them later), it’s Cohen’s soulful delivery and transcendental lyrics that steal the show. Even amongst his contemporaries it’s hard not to think that lyrically Cohen is the king, effortlessly weaving poetry into his stories and an unworldly command of the English language. And the band, well, bandurria player Javier Mas comes close to stealing the show a number of times, a humble yet graceful player, there’s no attempt to do anything except give life to Cohen’s incredible songs. At one point during his solo spot, the venue is his as he glides and plucks his away around a fretboard making a nylon sound that has us all (including Len) spellbound. The Webb sisters and Sharon Robinson provide exemplary (often astonishing) soulful backing but some of the arrangements have become bland in their slickness and the showboating from Dino Soldo around the saxophone solo’s (the one flaw in the show) is as discomforting and banal as Cohen is exciting and graceful.
When Cohen comes out after the break, he ditches the band for a pared down -Tower Of Song’ and tower it does, ‘I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet’ sends a shiver up the spine. -Suzanne’ draws a huge intake of breath and -Hallalujah’ is simply astonishing, slaughtering the notion that any of the -Nobody’s Got Talent’ contestants will ever touch the heights of the great songwriters or are anything more than a temporary fix in a broken, vapid, ultimatley meaningless celebrity culture. -If It Be Your Will’ is another moment, Cohen leaving the spotlight before the Webb Sisters astonishingly take the song higher. -A Thousand Kisses Deep’ then resulted in weeping in the isles.
Seeing 10,000 people rise to their feet to applaud the most gracious performer on the planet, one cant help be moved that a mortal songwriter can inspire so much love from an audience. There’s a great moment going on in modern culture right now with Neil Young, Springsteen and Leonard Cohen offering more insight, spirituality and wisdom than any church made of stone ever could.That moment won’t last forever, revel in it whilst you can and if you havent caught Cohen yet, do so.
Photo courtesy of Peter Wafzig.