As a writer and most importantly, a fan of Leonard Cohen, it’s virtually impossible to eschew hyperbole and review a performance the man gives. He with the jaunty suit, and fedora. He with the many bows of gratitude and cups of mercy and unified hearts.

So you just sit there in awe, in rapturous silence. Tears brimming in your eyes as he brings to life songs you know by heart; have always known by heart. Poems set to music, poems vaulted into the rafters. Prayers held aloft in their timelessness. Prayers, simple prayers, penned by a man, this man, the man. This humble 74-year-old who is, and who will always be, a servant, a tenant, in the tower of song.

You can’t make notes on this, dear friends. An evening like this. You can only breathe in and out, blink when you remember to. And accept, as I had to, that you are watching Leonard Cohen in the flesh. I’ll write that again: you are watching Leonard Cohen in the flesh bring to life legendary works that are, as U2’s The Edge recounted during the 2005 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, “of biblical significance.” You are watching him intone with that soothing, soothsaying baritone, poems that need no preface. Works that he takes years to finish. And once he finishes each last verse, removes his fedora to silently thank the audience and his superb backing band, featuring longtime collaborator and vocalist Sharon Robinson.

He often goes down on bended knee for special punctuation at the feet of Javier Mas and his banduria. Or skips with age-defying grace at the close of a set, or boogies, or shimmies, if the mood strikes him. He will perform for three hours; two sets, numerous encores. He will receive many standing ovations and whooping calls of professed love. He will smile in acknowledgement. This will be enough; he cannot enfold each of us. Although his words seem to.

Nobody brings on the agony and the ecstasy quite like Leonard Cohen.

The evening began with a full-bodied rendition of “Dance Me to the End of Love,” before taking on “The Future,” which, of course, continues to gain more political potency as the years pass since its bow in 1992, and a memorably evocative appearance during Natural Born Killers.

Newer material that also appeared during the first set, “Everybody Knows,” “Waiting for the Miracle” and “Anthem,” will leave you gob smacked. Speechless. Let me restate, you simply cannot improve upon a lyric such as this: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” The prescience here is bottomless.


(The cover of Cohen's latest CD release, "Live in London")

However, to witness “Bird on a Wire,” “Chelsea Hotel #2,” “Who by Fire?” “Tower of Song,” “Suzanne,” and “Sisters of Mercy” in rapid succession (given the necessary intermission), to watch him sing these words, and hear his band make such a holy, holy noise, “moment of a lifetime” or “concert of a lifetime” doesn’t ring true, doesn’t hold the water. I never thought I’d be blessed enough to hear L. Cohen rattle off, “If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn/They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as stem.” I never thought I was capable of writing such embarrassing mush, but take it for what it is. I know that the sold-out crowd agreed with me.

I won’t delve into how wondrous “Hallelujah” was, as I’d rather meditate on other moments, such as his incandescent reading of “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” or the joy of “I’m Your Man,” tumbling out of his “old man mask,” and the knock-out punch that “Democracy” wallops. I’d rather explore the canon he brought to life; the incomparable words on spirituality, sexuality, political apocalypse, personal oblivion and salvation. Healing. Prayer. Nakedness. Betrayal. Murder. That is what I want to celebrate. And “celebrate” isn’t charged enough, or particularly honest enough, for how much I honor Cohen’s lyrical legacy, and the man himself.

One of the final encores, the double shot of “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “If it Be Your Will,” was arguably the defining moment of the evening, at least for me. They encompassed everything I love about Cohen’s mind, everything I am rewarded by, and gain and glean from his words. (Aside from the very personal reaction I had to “Sisters of Mercy.”) He gave us a few lines of the latter, a candlelight prayer that never ceases to inspire and galvanize, before allowing the Webb Sisters to finish the lofty task, and, dare I say, it was the beauty that we all came so far for.

The man closed the show with a simple tender, hopeful parting message that is representative of his grace: “I don’t know when I’ll pass this way again, so until then, take care friends… and may you be surrounded by friends and family. And if this is not your lot, may the blessings find you in your solitude. Thank you so much for your warmth and hospitality.”

And with that, the man skipped off into the curtains, as the thunder of hands clapped and roared in appreciation…thousands of dreams realized, thousands of kisses deep.

–Carrie Alison

  1. New Images Posted : Leonard Cohen – Radio City
    This guy is amazing!


  2. I saw him in Cologne, Germany…..and I just couldn’t have described it in any better way.
    It was more like a spiritual experience than a mere concert.
    His music and his words will live forever.