Let me cut right to the chase: Leonard Cohen's performance at the Beacon Theatre in New York City Thursday night was remarkable. His performance was gracious, his voice deep and direct, his body of work extraordinary. We'll have a dozen songs from this concert online for you to hear, beginning Thursday, Feb. 26.
Cohen is 74, and cuts a striking figure. He looked as if he fell off a 1940s film noir set with his dark tailored suit and his one and only prop, his Frank Sinatra hat. That hat served him well as he bowed to his talented band of musicians and offered bows of appreciation to his fans.
His show was a greatest-hits set of sorts, with nothing new. That's usually a disappointment for me, but not on this night: All the old songs sounded fresh and new.
I think this is an accurate set list.
"Dance Me to the End of Love"
"Ain't No Cure for Love"
"Bird on a Wire"
"In My Secret Life"
"Who by Fire"
"Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye"
"Sisters of Mercy"
"Tower of Song"
"The Gypsy's Wife"
"I'm Your Man"
"Take This Waltz"
"So Long Marianne"
"First We Take Manhattan"
"Famous Blue Raincoat"
"If It Be Your Will"
"I Tried to Leave You"
"Whither Thou Goest"
His lyrics continue to slay me, especially when he's on his knees singing these lines:
Like a bird on a wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
like a knight from some old-fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.
I've had my musical falling-out with Leonard Cohen over the years. His arrangements puzzle me; at times, they verge on smooth jazz, complete with fake horns and synthesized keyboards. But that was kept to a minimum at The Beacon Theatre. The only excursions in that direction came from Dino Soldo (when he picked up the soprano sax or his Electronic Wind Instrument) and keyboardist Neil Larsen. Both are talented musicians, but their style is almost always lightweight next to Cohen's bite. There were times when I wanted some dirt in the sound, but that's never been a part of Leonard Cohen's music.
One wonderful musical surprise came from Javier Mas. His mastery of the banduria (think of a big-bodied mandolin with 12 strings), the laud (which is bigger and deeper than the banduria) and a 12-string guitar added a Middle Eastern and Spanish flavor to the music. We've heard this throughout Cohen's career, but never more than last night. It made me think of the Portuguese music style Fado, with its sense of longing and yearning.
I've always mistakenly thought of Cohen's work as North American folk music, because that's where you found his records in stores back in the day. But his music is more European in style and attitude, which helps explain the contrast between song content and style.
Cohen may come to a town near you. His North American tour dates were just announced:
4/2 Michael and Susan Dell Hall at Long Center Austin, TX
4/3 NOKIA Theatre at Grand Prairie Grand Prairie, TX
4/5 Dodge Theatre Phoenix, AZ
4/7 Copley Symphony Hall San Diego, CA
4/10 NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE Los Angeles, CA
4/13 Paramount Theatre of the Arts Oakland, CA
4/17 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival Indio, CA
4/19 General Motors Place Vancouver, BC
4/21 Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre Victoria, BC
4/23 WaMu Theater at Qwest Field Events Center Seattle, WA
4/25 Rexall Place Edmonton, AB
4/26 EPCOR Centre's Jack Singer Hall Calgary, AB
4/28 Credit Union Centre Saskatoon, SK
4/30 MTS Centre Winnipeg, MB
5/03 Orpheum Theatre Minneapolis, MN
5/05 The Chicago Theatre Chicago, IL
5/09 Fox Theatre Detroit, MI
5/11 Merriweather Post Pavilion Columbia, MD
5/12 Academy of Music Philadelphia, PA
5/14 Palace Theater Waterbury, CT
5/16 Radio City Music Hall New York, NY
5/19 Copps Coliseum Hamilton, ON
5/21 Pavillon de la Jeunesse Quebec City, QC
5/22 K-Rock Centre Kingston, ON
5/24 John Labatt Centre London, ON
5/25 National Arts Centre — Southam Hall Ottawa, ON
5/29 Wang Theatre Boston, MA
6/02 Red Rocks Amphitheatre Morrison, CO
By all means, go.
If you miss him, we'll have selections from last Thursday's concert online for you to hear, and a CD and DVD of a concert from England comes out at the end of March. But do what you can to see him. At 74, he's no spring chicken, though seeing him literally skip off stage like a delighted child gives me hope that I'll see him around again.