Leonard Cohen at 1STBANK Center, 11/03/12
By Tom Murphy Mon., Nov. 5 2012 at 9:00 AM
Photo Eric Gruneisen - The masterful Leonard Cohen at 1STBANK Center this past weekend.
There were no low points in Leonard Cohen's perfectly paced show at the 1STBANK Center -- impressive, considering it went on for three and a half hours. The high point came when Cohen and his band went into "Hallelujah." The crowd sang along; they had done so during other parts of the performance, butnot like this. They were excited, and their response seemed to have a subtly visible impact on the people on stage -- like they knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they had connected with people this night, and that the music they were performing had been affecting people for years and had become part of their life story.
The backdrop for the performance added a certain elegance. The white drapes, which perfectly reflected whatever colors of light were projected onto them, enhanced the visual impact of the band. While the performance was commanding enough on its own, the tasteful use of lighting made it feel like we were at some kind of after-hours jazz club seeing a legendary artist giving an intimate performance.
Adding to that sensation was the fact that Cohen's voice was prominent in the mix. It genuinely felt like he was speaking and singing directly to you. The quiet confidence the guy exuded was impressive, and his deft use of playfully sardonic dry humor made us all laugh at exactly the right moments.
Although the audience was clearly respectful, some people couldn't help but express their enthusiasm loudly at different points in the set. Nothing annoying, though. During a quiet passage in "Come Healing," you could hear a man say, with a heartfelt and childlike wonder, like he was especially struck by the moment, "This is a really good song." Indeed it was, especially this night. The first set ended with "Anthem," and Cohen introduced everyone in the band, including the woman whom he rightfully referred to as his collaborator, "the incomparable Sharon Robinson."
After the intermission, Cohen and crew came back on stage. Cohen had a keyboard in front of him, and he sarcastically announced he was going to play this machine that he wasn't sure any of us had seen anything like before. When he played a very simple piano part, the crowd cheered. At this, Cohen smiled and said, "Thank you, music lovers." A guy who can poke fun at himself and rib the audience a little in the process and still look cool and gracious about it? Not to mention making you laugh with him because he's having a chuckle with us and himself and not at the expense of either? Genius.
For "Anyhow," Cohen displayed his gift for delivering the most bawdy and earthy lines, well shy of crass, in a way that was poetic, gracious and even dignified. It was like a close friend just laying out observations that shouldn't be tender and endearing, but the tone and spirit in which those words are spoken make them so. Following this with "Democracy," Cohen had us wondering what could possibly come after that. Little did we know the show was only a little bit past the halfway mark.
The only thing that could really follow "Democracy" were two songs that showcased the other main singers of the night, starting with the Webb sisters doing a disarmingly gorgeous duet in "Coming Back to You." Then Robinson put in a strong, soulful, moving performance of "Alexandra Leaving."
Not just for this song, but elsewhere, it was impressive to see a singer with a background like she has to use so many vocal tricks at once in a way that didn't overdo anything. Her vibrato? Masterful in its versatility and tastefulness. Sure, for most of the show, Robinson kind of took a side, not back, seat to Cohen, but she's also one of the few singers around whose own perfect phrasing is on par with her collaborator's.
The second set ended with a kind of upbeat version of "Take This Waltz," but the crowd was so enthusiastic, standing ovation and all, that everyone came back for three encores total. The most endearing moment came during the third encore, which Cohen had the stones, and great humor, to start off with "I Tried To Leave You." He drew out the words like we were having a conversation. Clearly it's been practiced, but it felt very impromptu.
The show closed with "Save the Last Dance For Me," and it must be said that very few artists will play thirty songs in a night lasting three and a half hours. Bruce Springsteen? George Clinton? The Dead in their heyday? Bands playing the cover-band circuit? Leonard Cohen turned 78 on September 21, and he showed more spirit, energy, charisma and sheer endurance than almost anyone else we have ever seen, and so did the rest of the band. Here's to many more years ahead, Mr. Cohen.
Personal Bias: Like a lot of people, I first consciously heard Leonard Cohen in the movie Pump Up the Volume, even though you'd hear his name as one of the world's great songwriters. Been a big fan since and seeing him for the second time was a rare privilege.
Random Detail: Ran into Michael Trundle (aka DJ boyhollow) and Kitty Vincent (formerly of Le Divorce) after the show.
By the Way: There was a T-shirt design that looked like a drawing Leonard Cohen did, along with some comments on the side of the image. There were other more traditional, but also cool, T-shirt designs, like a quasi-abstracted image of Cohen wearing his hat against a blue field.
1STBANK Center - 11/3/12
Dance Me to the End of Love
Bird on the Wire
Who By Fire
A Thousand Kisses Deep
In My Secret Life
Waiting for the Miracle
Tower of Song
Night Comes On
Heart With No Companion
Coming Back To You (performed by The Webb Sisters)
Alexandra Leaving (performed by Sharon Robinson)
I'm Your Man
Take This Waltz
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
I Tried to Leave You
Save the Last Dance For Me (Drifters cover)