(This post was written by iwriteplays' father, who saw Leonard Cohen's first concert in 14 years at the Sony Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada, on June 6, 2008.)

Photo by Trevor Haldenby

As the lights go down, one can barely discern the outline of the instruments against the blue background. There is a hush. Like shadows, band members file in and take up their positions on the stage. "The opening band, no doubt," I think. One can barely see the fedora-covered heads of the musicians in the darkness. Suddenly the stage lights come on. There, hat in hand, with a reverential bow and a humble smile, stands our man, Leonard Cohen.

"But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee."
–"Bird on a Wire"

The effect is exhilarating. "Fourteen years ago I was a 60 year old young kid with a crazy dream," he says. That is the last time that he had toured. Most of his fans—no, the word "follower" is better—most of his followers never thought that they would see him in person again. And here he stands, ready to sing his poems to us.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in "

I am still a youngster of 60. I am excited. Leonard was a hero of my generation. To my surprise, there are many people in their 30s and even 20s in the audience. A 25-ish girl next to me traveled from Ohio to see Leonard. Her friend came from Western Canada. They seem to know his songs better than I do. "That is the fifth song on his latest album,"she says. "Yes, we find him very very sexy, can't you see why?" says her friend. They are serious, without a hint of sarcasm. Wow!

And then he suddenly starts singing. His voice is deeper, calmer, more resonant than I ever remember. It is a near-religious experience.

The band is incredible—nine extraordinary musicians. The backup singers, the Webb sisters and long time friend and collaborator Sharon Robinson, are mesmerizing. The harmonics, the beat, the rhythm, the improvisations and solos of the musicians are first rate. They all complement each other perfectly. Leonard takes pains to make each musician shine and introduces them repeatedly by name. He takes his hat off and bows as they play.

"You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah"

"Tower of Song" is one of Leonard's best-known songs. He interprets it exquisitely and hearing it for the hundredth time does not detract from the experience. It ends with "do dam dam dah dah do dam dah" repeated in a slow decrescendo by the backup ladies. Leonard Cohen, ordained Buddhist monk, poet, musician, philosopher, hushes the audience and says something like this: "for a long time I have been searching for the secret to life's mysteries. This is what it is." He points at the ladies and moves along with the ethereal music, not quite daring to join in.

"Ah but a man never got a woman back
Not by begging on his knees..."
–"I'm your man"

He was on stage for about two and one half hours. Eight songs before the intermission, nine after, plus seven songs during three encore sessions—very generous. He mostly sang his known, popular songs—that is what was expected of him. The surprise was that his performance was even better than his recorded music. He carries the tune well, follows the script, and is strong and convincing. I never felt that I was looking at an "over the hill" aging star. He is completely "there," his diction is clear, and I could understand every word. The old verses gained new meanings. It was just beautiful.

When he finally waived goodbye I wasn't sad. He wasn't gone. He looks good. He is doing what he does best. He is making people think and feel, feel and think. He will keep talking to us from his window high up in the Tower of Song.

Leonard, thank you for giving us the gift of your golden voice.

Good luck to you on your tour!

For more information on Leonard Cohen:


-K said...

Excellent review!!!!! Thank you so much for posting this!

Steve said...

Awesome. Thank you for posting!