There are few artists in the same league as Leonard Cohen. Even Lou Reed has placed the poet and songwriter in the "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters." There are few as respected as revered Cohen and yet he has been able to maintain an air of distance and mystery between himself and the world. And after over a decade away from the limelight he graced us in the Valley with a performance only he could deliver last night.
It has been fifteen years since Leonard Cohen has done a concert tour of America, since when as he put it last night "I was just 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream," one of the few times he spoke between songs taking a brief second to explain his latest outing. And at 74 years of age now his set was as lively and powerful as many performers a third his age. Cohen skipped on and off stage, got down on his knees several times and danced on stage like a kid.
Cohen played a captivating three hour set, leading a incredible 9 piece band through at least 27 of his songs with only a brief intermission. One of the only other times he spoke between songs was to introduce his band at the end of each half of the set. The band was lead by bassist Roscoe Beck, with Javier Mas from Barcelona on bandurria and laúd giving the songs a Spanish flair. Dino Soldo played saxophones, keyboards and many other wind instruments often turning what was a originally a string part into a woodwind part. Neil Larson played piano and keyboards often setting the mood while Choen spoke or introduced songs, Bob Metzger on guitar and steel guitar and Rafael Gayol from Mexico City on drums with the most amazing precision. Sharon Robinson, Cohen's long time collaborator and co-writer led The Webb Sisters, the English Hattie and Charley Webb, in backing vocals as well as singing a solo rendition of "Boogie Street." The band was perfect from start to close.
The show was almost identical the show last year in London, recently released as a CD and DVD. The set started with "Dance Me To The End Of Love" and featured "The Future" "Everybody knows," "Chelsea Hotel No.2" and "Anthem" before the brief intermission. After the intermission, which was only an hour into the 3 hour set, Cohen preformed "Suzanne" mostly buy himself on acoustic guitar while the band step away. In that second half he preformed "Hallelujah" dropping to both knees to rise in a dramatic motion fitting of the moving music. The second half also included a solo reading of his poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep."
His nine song encore included such classic as "Democracy" "Closing Time" "I Tried To Leave You." The encore left the audience on their feet and in suspense for much off the time with Cohen teasing the crowed after songs skipping of stage several times leading the audience to believe it could be the end of the set only to come back out into one more number and then another. Half way through the encore, the whole band followed Cohen off stage. He returned to with only Hattie and Charley Webb and Neil Larson. The four did a moving rendition of "If It Be Your Will" started off by Cohen reciting the lyrics flowed by The Webb Sisters signing the song to Harp, acoustic guitar and Larson's piano before the full band returned to do four more numbers.
Even at the end of his set Cohen was pure class. After the final song, the appropriate "Whither Thou Goest," Cohen brough his crew on stage and thanked all his musicians and the crew by name before thanking the audience and taking one final bow. It may be a long time be for a talent that classy walks on that stage.
Set List (as best I could make out):
Dance Me To The End Of Love
Ain't No Cure For Love
Bird On The Wire
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel No.2
Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye
Tower Of Song
The Gypsy's Wife
The Partisan ("La Complainte du Partisan")
I'm Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Take This Waltz
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
That Don't Make It Junk
I Tried To Leave you
Whither Thou Goest
Last Night: Lenard Cohen at Doge Theater in Downtown Phoenix.
Personal Bias: I have a hard time sitting through almost any bands half-hour set, even bands I like, but Cohen's 3 hour set captivated me till the very last song. "Halleluja" is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written and certainly one of the best songs in recent history.
Random Detail: During his song "The Future" Cohen changed a line from "white men dancing" to "white girls dancing" and two of his back ground singers, the sisters Hattie and Charley Webb, did a cartwheel away from their microphones.
Further Listening: If you do not know Cohen's entire catalog, get started. There isn't a bad song in it and most of it is breath taking.
By the Way: During the classic "Everybody Knows" some one in the front gave Cohen a box of Chocolates and a Long Stem Rose, it is hard to imagine that this does not happen every night.
One More Thing: The Dodge Theater's box office was slow this night. People were literally cheering and clapping every time some one walked away from the ticket window because it was taking so long.