REVIEW: Cohen lifts Halifax to Tower of Song
April 14, 2013 - 6:42am By STEPHEN COOKE Entertainment Reporter
From vintage ballads to taste of mortality, Coolest Canadian Alive enthralls
Leonard Cohen opens his show on the stage of the Metro Centre on Saturday night in Halifax. (TED PRITCHARD / Staff)
With a spring in his step, the Coolest Canadian Alive skipped onto the stage of the Halifax Metro Centre, and within seconds he was kneeling at the altar of romance.
Leonard Cohen bowed down before acoustic guitarist Javier Mas, plucking the nylon strings like a Barcelona balladeer on Dance Me to the End of Love, setting the tone for a show designed to reach through the heart and grasp at the soul.
“I hope this isn’t a farewell tour,” deadpanned the 78-year-old poet of song. “Not to be morbid, but in a sense, we’re all on a farewell tour.”
There aren’t many 78-year-olds that can pack the Metro Centre, and while I’m sure many in attendance missed the intimacy of his multi-night stand at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium nearly five years ago, Cohen did his best to make up for it with his focused performance, crystal clear sound and wry banter.
“Thank you for your very warm welcome when we came onto the stage, we deeply appreciate it,” he said, referring to the standing ovation that greeted his arrival onstage, before gesturing up to the nosebleed seats.
“Thank you for climbing to those heights.”
Cohen had his own heights to scale as well, with Sherpas in the form of his finely tuned six-piece band and the spirit-soothing backup vocals of longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters.
It turned out to be a heckuva climb, nearly 30 songs high, with tunes slightly tweaked to suit the extra wrinkles in the singer’s familiar growl. Bird on a Wire is transformed into a Stax-style soul ballad, driven by Neil Larsen’s vintage Hammond B3, while the pointed wisdom of Everybody Knows remains relatively untouched in its arrangement.
But then there’s the masterful restructuring of Who By Fire, starting with Mas on the laud, a kind of a pear-shaped baritone 12-string.
The Spaniard played with rich gypsy intrigue before Cohen underlined his litany of mortal coil leaving with the imaginative interplay between band leader Roscoe Beck’s elastic double bass, Larsen’s burbling B3 and Mexico City percussionist Rafael Gayol’s well-timed thumps.
The song proved to be a perfect lead-in to the Montreal bard’s thoughts about mortality on the Old Ideas Tour, named after his latest acclaimed release.
“There is one hazard in my hotel room; it’s in the bathroom, and it’s the magnifying mirror. If you’re over the age of 11, you’re best not to look into it,” grinned Cohen, who noted this mirror on the wall had a voice that wasn’t prepared to do his bidding.
“Lighten up, Cohen. How long are you going to pout? What increments must be changed in the cosmos to adjust the intensity of your struggle?”
Cohen didn’t have an answer, responding instead with a pair of new tunes from Old Ideas, Amen and Come Healing, ballads for those in search of spiritual repair, soaked in gospel hope manifested by the perfect harmonies of Robinson and the Webbs and Alexandru Bublitchi’s spectal, soaring violin.
Cohen is perfectly capable of lightening up, though, swaying seductively to Beck’s old-school disco rhythm for First We Take Manhattan and adopting a jaunty country beat for Heart With no Companion.
Of course, he was a country fan in his earliest days, later acknowledging his debt to Hank Williams in the second set opener Tower of Song, where he earned cheers of agreement from the crowd when he purred, “I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”
Unfortunately, press time loomed just as Cohen passed the halfway point, using that golden voice to deliver his first signature tune, Suzanne, with a pure arrangement tinged with melancholy and nostalgia for a perfect moment, captured in the amber of memory.
Now this show would be the same, the notes lingering in the air in our minds, after a magical night presided over by a master of song with few equals. He has built a mighty tower, but unlike Babel, his will stand for years to come.
Dance Me to the End of Love
Bird on a Wire
Who By Fire
There Ain't No Cure for Love
First We Take Manhattan
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Tower of Song
Heart With No Companion
Waiting for the Miracle
Show Me the Place
Lover Lover Lover
Alexandra Leaving (sung by Sharon Robinson)
I'm Your Man
Take This Waltz
So Long, Marianne
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will (sung by the Webb Sisters)
Save the Last Dance for Me
I Tried to Leave You