Hallelujah, Leonard finds his muse
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 4, 2008)
I doubt that many of the 2,200 people who gathered at Hamilton Place last night came to see a singer.
They came instead to pay homage to a literary icon, a man who paints pictures with words, an artist who can stop you in your tracks with a single line of verse.
They were there to witness an event, one of the last hurrahs of an artist who makes you feel proud to be Canadian. Our very own Dylan, and more.
It was Leonard freakin' Cohen for Pete's sake, on stage right before our eyes.
Of course he's not a singer. We knew that 40 years ago when we first heard the Montreal-born poet mumble through Suzanne. Like a hypnotist's charm, Cohen's sonorous drone actually drew us closer to those majestic strings of words.
So when Cohen came out last night in his gray fedora and dark baggy suit, it came as no surprise that the sold-out crowd rose to a standing ovation.
He removed the hat, looking a little timid without it, clasped it to his chest and bowed. He spoke with warmth and appreciation, almost embarrassed that so many people would come out to see him perform.
"Thank you for that exceedingly warm welcome," he said. "Thank you for coming out in the rain ... and on a school night."
An extraordinary thing happened next. Cohen began to sing.
And, man, did he sing. Who knows what key his sub-baritone voice found, but he stuck to it unwaveringly through the night.
He sang for two-and-half hours (with one 20-minute intermission). He delivered some 20 songs including the encores, sounding better than he has on many of his later records.
If there was a crack in his voice the entire night, I don't remember it. And if there was a crack, it was only to let the light shine through (to paraphrase Anthem, the song he closed the first set with.)
Nobody cringed at Cohen's funereal croak. It was what they had come for. They bathed in it. Cohen was magnificent.
He opened the concert with his 1984 song, Dance Me To The End of Love, singing it as an exhortation for his audience, as much as his muse, to help him through the show.
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love...
At 73 years of age, the great poet didn't look a day over 60. He was in fighting trim, standing throughout the show, bending into the microphone, his knees swaying to the music.
He even treated the audience to an amusing little shuffle in the "white man dance" line of his apocalyptic song of repent, The Future. When the second set opened, he actually jogged onto the stage.
And, yes, he still exuded that sexy allure, an impeccably polite lady's man to the end, drawing them in with that unspeakable mystique.
"It's been 15 years since I stood up a stage," he confessed to the audience before pacing into Ain't No Cure For Love. "I was 60 years old then, just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I've taken a lot of Prozac ... How have you been?"
Sure, he had a remarkable band backing him up, six masterful musicians and three wonderful female singers (including the sisters Charlie and Hatty Webb, who he repeatedly referred to as "sublime" as he glanced toward them, perhaps a little too lasciviously).
But he never gave up centre stage, even when long-time writing partner Sharon Robinson joined him for a duet on the delightful Boogie Street.
Bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck and drummer Rafael Gayol kept a rhythm perfectly paced for Cohen's phrasing.
It wasn't all phrasing, however. Cohen's voice actually soared to unimagined heights (which were actually fairly low, come to think of it) through the chorus of Hallelujah and the passionate I'm Your Man.
Neil Larsen, a veteran session player who has played with the likes of George Harrison, Kenny Loggins and Rickie Lee Jones, deftly backed him on a B3 Hammond organ, while Bob Metzger offered up delicate leads on electric and steel pedal guitars. At the edge of the stage, Javier Mas ran through sundry stringed instruments of near-Eastern origin, while Dino Soldo took turns on saxophone, keyboards, winds and vocals.
At this stage in his life, Cohen is supposed to be getting kind of tired. But he didn't look it last night, even in the midst of an international tour that continues tonight with another sold out concert at Hamilton Place before moving on to Toronto for four more shows at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. Apparently there are still tickets for June 9.