Review: Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas World Tour, Leeds Arena, September 7
11:58am Friday 13th September 2013 in Music news and reviews By Charles Hutchinson
GOD bless the taxman.
You can’t often say that, but when fiscal problems from the alleged misuse of his finances by his personal manager led Leonard Cohen to end his 15-year stage hiatus in 2008, we were blessed.
Not everyone saw that messianic return, and so God bless Leeds – and you can’t always say that in York – for opening the First Direct Arena. If it were to close again tomorrow, it would still have been worth it, just to have witnessed Cohen last Saturday.
He is 78 you know, 79 a week tomorrow, and it feels like an act of betrayal to sprightly Leonard to mention it, and patronising too. However, we are not used to such performances from anyone aside from rediscovered Buena Vista Social Club Cubans and gold-teethed bluesman waking up to another bad morning. Even theatre only has Lear and cinema has On Golden Pond and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.
Let’s get over that prejudice, just as Cohen got over the bad back – ironically brought on by exercising – that forced the postponement of an earlier tour in his comeback. Let’s be grateful that Leonard treats his audience and his back catalogue far better than Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.
Your reviewer won’t be alone in not having “got” Leonard Cohen until seeing him live. There would be those who dismissed him as “slit-your-wrists music”; others might have expected an old guy croaking away on a stool. And then you hear the voice and it stops you in your tracks: so warm, deep, lithe, and, gosh, so erotic.
And then you watch Cohen drop to his knees and this is not an old man’s fall, but an act of supplication. He will do it repeatedly through two sets, so it’s showmanship too.
And then there are the words: Leonard the poet, the romantic, the sage, the wit, the piper. He is sensual and spiritual, a man of faith, Jewish by birth and Buddhist by demeanour, but it goes deeper than religion. This is faith in life, making sense of who we are, what we do, why we do it.
Ah, what about the music? Who ever said Len was just dirge? He had brought together the most breathtaking set of players and harmony singers, as international as a G8 conference.
Spanish guitar player Javier Mas, from Barcelona. Percussionist Rafael Gayol from Mexico. Keyboards player and accordionist Neil Larsen, from Florida. Bass player Roscoe Beck from Los Angeles. Guitarist Mitch Watkins from Texas. Vocalist Sharon Robertson from San Francisco. Harmony singers The Webb Sisters, from Kent.
I name them individually because that’s the kind of respect Cohen shows them. When they are each in the spotlight, he removes his trilby, watches intently and bows in gratitude as the solo ends. Have you ever seen such generosity of spirit at any other concert? No.
Dance Me To The End Of Love, Tower Of Song, Suzanne, Take This Waltz, First We Take Manhattan, and yes, Hallelujah, he played them all, and so many more, before skipping off stage well past 11pm.
“Are you mocking me?” he had asked, teasingly, as he picked at a keyboard, but on this hallelujah of a night, Leonard Cohen made a mockery of any age-old stereotype.
God bless Leonard Cohen, whoever is your god.