Live review - Cohen still the commander

editorial image
0
Have your say

Review by Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers

Leonard Cohen, Leeds First Direct Arena.

Leonard Cohen is an old man but, for a certain generation of people, a legend.

Appearing in the lofty expanse of Leeds Arena in front of at least 10,000 people, he spends most of the opening three numbers on his knees on an oldfashioned rug, microphone between his hands , looking dapper in his trademark hat and suit.

My god, he’s too old to stand up and he can’t sing.

I ‘m soon proved wrong.

An early stiffness in opening numbers Dance Me To The End Of Love, The Future and an unconvincing version of Bird on the Wire is soon replaced with a lithe, louchness and a natural sense of good taste.

Whether a fan or not, it’s remarkable for a man who wasn’t exactly young when he first tasted fame and its rewards in the folk-flavoured boom days of the late 1960s.

The core of his two-hour-long-plus set is built on his more ‘recent’ albums in his lengthy career – five songs from I’m Your Man (1988), four from The Future (1992) plus nearly as many from Ten New Songs (2001).

The original synth sound of these ‘hits’ smacked of the 80s but tracks like Everybody Knows and First We take Manhattan with their mix of cynical worldly observation, personal philosophy and religious symbolism now seem spot on for the present day

Cohen started as a poet and a rogue but it’ s as if he eventually became a seer for real.

Are they mock jolly or mock depressing? Whatever. These songs show an uncanny understanding of where all our futures were heading in the Western World as the idealism of the 60s faded.

Backed by a fantastic mix of musicians playing a wide palate of instruments, from Moldavian violin to Spanish mandolin, Cohen delivers his darkly witty lyrics with just the right tone and weight for his remaining vocal powers.

As a performer in his twilight years, Cohen seems to realize that less is more, getting laughs between songs for his dry delivery, making grand gestures from the smallest of movements on that grandmother rug as if he was Elvis in slow motion.

Shortly to hit the grand old age of 79, there’s a twinkle in his eye, a spring in his step and a seductive tenderness in his voice.

A captivating performer, Cohen looks a happy man, exchanging glances with current partner, Sharon Robinson, who’s among the line of backing singers looking half his age.

In my opinion, even his best renditions tonight of the classic songs from his days as a bedsit heart-throb, Who By Fire, Suzanne, Chelsea Hotel #2, The Partisan, sound like an act of nostalgia.

Great as they are, they belong to a different age.

Such are Cohen’s powers in a spellbound Leeds Arena, however, if you shut your eyes, you can still catch a whiff of old revolutionary spirit.

Half bar singer, half prophet, a man with a surgical brain and a gypsy soul, the candle still flickers in the corner of the attic.