By the end of his first U.S. show in more than 15 years, Leonard Cohen proved that not only is he still the king of cool, but even at 74 years old, he’s also king of the live performance.
The venerated musician/novelist/poet, best known for the songs “Hallelujah” and “Suzanne,” filled New York City’s Beacon Theatre Thursday night with a dazzling three-hour show that included six encores and more than a dozen standing ovations. Outside, fans were offering upwards of $700 for a single balcony ticket.
Fronting a nine-piece band, Cohen touched on his entire catalogue. And he did so with a refreshing “cheerfulness,” as he put it, that “kept breaking through” the darkness of his well documented battle with depression. Cohen’s upbeat demeanor only added to the poignancy of his carefully wrought lyrics of isolation and lost love.
He spryly crossed the stage on tunes like “Everybody Knows,” dramatically dropping to one knee and tipping his black fedora (which matched his Dick Tracy-style suit) to signal a solo from Barcelona-based guitarist Javier Mas, whose work — especially on 1974’s “Who By Fire” — was the show’s second star.
On “Chelsea Hotel,” the Montreal-born Cohen flashed a suave smirk, garnering laughs and woops with his sexual lyrics about getting “head on the unmade bed.”
His low groan was an ever-present highlight of the night. On “Suzanne,” a tribute to an artistic lover from his ’67 debut, the combination of Cohen’s early folk songwriting and seductive vocal phrasing provided a truly transcendent moment. And on “Hallelujah,” a true American classic that has been covered by hundreds of artists from Jeff Buckley to American Idol‘s Jason Castro, Cohen’s persona was at its most powerful as he kneeled before the audience in song and prayer.
But Cohen wasn’t the night’s only star. Each band member was a virtuoso in their own right, combining their individual mastery into a seductive fusion of jazz, cabaret and blues. Cohen reminded the audience of their prowess, introducing each — including his longtime musical collaborator and life partner Sharon Robinson, who sang lead on “Boogie Street” — with titles like “architect of arpeggio” or “master of direction.”
“I hear hard times are coming — it’ll be worse than Y2K,” Cohen cracked at one point, bringing the crowd to laughter. But his financial woes are no joke: Cohen is touring in part because his former manager, Kelley Lynch, misappropriated millions from his retirement, while he was holed up in a SoCal Buddhist sanctuary for five years. Cohen was subsequently rewarded $9.5 million by a Los Angeles court, but has so far been unable to collect.
If his finances are the reason he’s emerged from retirement for a just-announced U.S. tour (see complete dates here), all 2,800 fans at the sold-out show last night owe Lynch a drink. Cohen is not to be missed — his show is a mesmerizing testament to his legend.
“Dance Me To The End of Love”
“Ain’t No Cure For Love”
“Bird on the 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”
Poem / “Thousand Kisses Deep”
“Take This Waltz”
“So Long Marianne”
“First We Take Manhattan”
“Famous Blue Raincoat”
“If It Be Your Will””Democracy”
“I Tried To Leave You”
“Whither Thou Goest”