I am not a concert-goer, usually, and I am not a music fanboy, but, dude. LEONARD COHEN. To give you an idea of the depth of my feeling, I miss the days when I could tell people that my favorite song was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and have them *not know what the fuck I was talking about.* I missed Cohen's tour for "The Future." That was his last tour. It was *fifteen years ago,* people. I was in *high school.* I have been kicking myself ever since.
No more! Not about this, anyway. I saw him at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD, and he was in terrific form. Cohen's starting to show his age -- particularly in his hands; his wrists are frighteningly old-man skinny -- but by gum he brought it. It was a classy, comfortable, leisurely show. The venue had advised that Mr. Cohen would take the stage promptly at 7:30 PM, and maybe he actually started around five minutes after that. No opening act; the concert ran for at least three hours, counting one intermission of maybe twenty minutes. He had a good bunch of bandmates and vocalists: Neil Larsen (keyboards), Roscoe Beck (bass/backing vocals/music direction), Javier Mas (guitar) Bob Metzger (guitar), Dino Soldo (sax/harmonica/backing vocals), and Rafael Gayol (percussion) provided the instrumentation, while the main backing vocals were provided by Cohen's longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson, along with the Webb Sisters (Hattie and Charlie). I've really enjoyed Robinson's work on Cohen's albums, so getting to see her sing with him in person was a real treat. (Among other credits, she co-wrote "Everybody Knows.") The band got plenty of opportunities to showcase their abilities, as Cohen set a leisurely pace, particularly early in the show, and there were plenty of instrumental solos. The second half of the show picked up in pace and intensity, and it was a great payoff.
A couple of notes: 1) I want an animated .gif icon of Leonard Cohen's old white man dancing skillz, because they were totally adorable; 2) Cohen likes to go down on his knees often while he's singing, so his area of the stage was covered with nice rugs. I may be mistaken, because I was a way off and the best look I got at the rugs was on the video monitors, but I could swear that at least one of them was a Qom.
Never done a concert write-up before; hopefully those friends of mine who're in bandom will let me know if this is the approved way of doing this.
The concert opened with "Dance Me to the End of Love." I think a good chunk of the audience sang along to welcome him. Followed by:
"The Future." Cohen got the audience laughing here with his boogie to the lyrics "and the white man dancing;" the second time round, he substituted it for "and the white girls dancing," whereupon the Webb sisters stepped back from the mike, performed cartwheels, and stepped back to the mike without missing a beat.
"Ain't No Cure for Love." Heartfelt, very nice.
"Bird on a Wire." Really magnificent job on this one.
"Everybody Knows." I don't have to tell you this was awesome, do I? OK.
"My Secret Life." Performed mostly as a duet with Sharon Robinson; some really terrific interplay between them here.
"Who By Fire." One of a few songs at the concert where Cohen played guitar.
"Chelsea Hotel No. 2." One notable lyric substitution: in the first chorus, rather than "you just turned your back on the crowd," Cohen sings, "you just threw it all to the ground." It fits, because she did.
"Waiting for the Miracle." The instrumentalists really shone on this one, for some reason. Maybe it's because I've always liked the orchestration on this song.
Cohen then took a moment to deliver a few words of thanks to the audience; these words were delayed because as soon as he stepped forward and it was clear he was about to speak, the audience gave him a *huge* standing ovation. People were *hungry* to see this guy, and to let him know they loved him. FIFTEEN YEARS BETWEEN TOURS, ARGH.
"Anthem." With band introductions. Lots of applause for Sharon Robinson. Cohen closed by announcing an intermission, after which they'd be back with the second half of the show. They'd played ten songs, been going for about an hour.
Intermission. About 20 minutes.
"Tower of Song." Cohen played this one on keyboard loaded with an automated backing track. He played the melody himself; he does not have mad keyboard skillz, but the audience gave him huge applause anyway. He thanked them for being generous. In the fade-out, he had some business with Robinson and the Webb Sisters that involved him "making" them sing "da-doo-dum-dums" for as long as he could get away with it, as he sloooooooooowly faded down the volume on the backing track. They had some good fun with that gimmick, and it played very well.
"Suzanne." Classic, beautifully done.
"The Gypsy's Wife." I wasn't expecting to hear this one. Nice surprise. (Though not my favorite song from that album; if he'd done "The Traitor," I'd've fallen out of my chair.)
“The Partisan.” Bonus: Sharon Robinson singing in French!
"Boogie Street." Cohen stepped back here; Sharon Robinson sang this one, and she got a terrific response.
"Hallelujah." Magnificent. I don't care what anybody says: the best version of "Hallelujah" ever recorded is the one on "Cohen Live." Positively heart-stopping, and tonight I got to hear Cohen do it live for myself. The audience adored it, but wasn't too deep in swoon to appreciate a nice gag Cohen slipped into the lyrics for the tour: "I didn't come all the way to the [insert name of venue here] to fool you." Standing o, unsurprisingly.
"I’m Your Man." Cohen really rocked this one; it's a song he's been known to have a lot of fun with, and he did, but the performance was also very deep and moving.
"A Thousand Kisses Deep." This was something different. Cohen did it on stage alone or almost, with only the lightest of backing instrumentalists, and he didn't sing it. He recited it, intensely, as a poem. Hot stuff. I was surprised that nobody threw panties.
"Take this Waltz." Another one I hadn't expected to hear. I love this song a lot, so it was a great surprise. I was hoping that Robinson would come in on the response when it came. Nope! One of the Webb sisters did, and she was terrific. This one got a standing O.
This was where Cohen made his first exit. The audience wasn't letting him get away that easily. (See: FIFTEEN YEARS BETWEEN TOURS.) He got dragged out a few more times.
"So Long, Marianne." Really nice tempo on the arrangement.
"First, We Take Manhattan." Really high energy on this one. The joint rocked; the audience was clapping along to the beat.
"Famous Blue Raincoat." Cohen took up the guitar again for this one. One of his greatest songs, gloriously rendered.
"If It Be Your Will." Cohen told the audience how he'd do this one before he started. He began the song, but did so as a spoken-word recitation, as he'd done "A Thousand Kisses Deep;" after his recitation, the Webb Sisters came in, singing the lyrics and accompanying themselves on harp and guitar, with keyboard backing from Neil Larsen. Really terrific.
"Democracy." Nicely rocking; the audience really enjoyed this one.
"I Tried to Leave You." Great choice for an encore song; as soon as he started it, the audience cracked up. "I closed the book on us / at least a hundred times!" The closing line was wonderfully fitting, too, as Cohen painted himself as the "man still working for your smile."
The final song of the night was an ensemble piece: all the performers gathered at the front of the stage and, led by Cohen, performed "Whither Thou Goest" a capella.
He closed with a nice benediction: "My prayer for you is that you be surrounded by friends and family, but if this is not your lot, may you find blessings in your solitude."
Absolutely great. A wonderful, classy performance, by a guy who'd been away from the road too long. His supporting players were very well chosen; he had long-time relationships with many of them, and Cohen took pains to showcase their abilities and praise them to the audience. And the audience loved him for it, and for coming.
And he can't be feeling too old: he literally skipped on and off the stage.