Times Colonist: Leonard Cohen still on his game

By Mike Devlin, Times Colonist
December 1, 2010


Leonard Cohen literally bounded on stage Tuesday night, looking for more agile — and sounding considerably younger — than your average 76-year-old.

He would prove to be to be even more impressive, in all manner of areas, as the night progressed. Over the course of his truly awe-inspiring three-hour concert, Cohen could do no wrong. In any way, shape or form.

He was met with a standing ovation after stepping on stage at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, which he readily accepted. Forget that the gesture has probably been expressed at nearly every one of his 240 comeback concerts during the past two-and-a-half years. Cohen was genuinely gracious in accepting such a gift.

“So kind of you,” he remarked, in that famous baritone of his, before the night’s opening song, Dance Me to the End of Love. “Thanks very much.”

When you go to a Cohen concert, you aren’t merely an attendee. In his words, you’re a “friend.” Showbiz speak isn’t in his vocabulary, so when Cohen calls you a friend assume you’re a friend for life. A friend for real.

Such a concept might seem inauthentic on paper, but in person it feels the opposite. “I didn’t come to Victoria to fool you,” he sang during a heaven-sent Hallelujah.

Even his new material cooks in surprising ways. The Darkness, which has yet to be recorded, ruminated on the life he has left (“I’ve got no future baby, I know my days are few”) with a perverse optimism. He touched on the same thread throughout the night, with a series of classic songs, era-defining songs, that made mincemeat of the 5,751 friends assembled before him.

The setlist rarely lagged. He was supported at every turn by a crack nine-piece band that included bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck, keyboardist Neil Larsen, guitarists Bob Metzger and Javier Mas, drummer Rafael Gayol, saxophonist Dino Soldo, singer Sharon Robinson, and background singers Charley and Hattie Webb.

Each musician is worthy of mention; Mas, in particular, was a highlight. It may be Cohen’s name in lights, but it was their sonic support that made the music shine.

Cohen was on his game, too, often perched on one knee, serenading with a single hand cupped near his cheek. His emotion was real. He wasn’t selling anything, other than truth. And he looked darn good, too.

It has been suggested that Cohen’s music can build bridges, save lives, cure diseases. I don’t know about that, but it is powerful. Check that. It’s damn near combustible. His personality, on the other hand, while slightly scoundrel-esque in song is utterly charming in the flesh.

“It’s so great to be back,” he said, making reference to his storied show at the same venue just over one year ago. “I want to thank-you for your most warm welcome. That’s the problem. You see, there ain’t no cure for love.”

At one point, he would refer to Metzger’s astonishing guitar solos (on Bird On the Wire he delivered a pair of scene-stealers) as “geometries of liveliness.”

Once a poet, always a poet. And yet, he’s so much more than that these days. Words are his first love (Cohen published his first collection of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956, while still at McGill University) but he’s an equal-opportunity performer these days.

His delivery, his on-stage essence, has become as dramatic as any aspect part of his oevure. And after three years of touring, with a new album in the works, it’s about to get a whole lot more refined.

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Who: Leonard Cohen

When: Tuesday

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre

Rating: 5 (out of five)