Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Review: Leonard Cohen

Hallelujah as the 73 year old has not lost his touch
18 June 2008 - You know you’re a living legend when you get a standing ovation just for taking the stage.

That’s what Leonard Cohen got from his fans last night in Manchester and with two hour long sets and a six song encore to boot, he more than justified the adoration.

The six-piece backing band was smooth and sophisticated, staying the right side of tasteful lounge music thanks largely to the Spanish guitar player Javier Mas.

If that sounds slightly disrespectful, then let me hasten to say that they created the perfect platform for what was undoubtedly the star attraction of the show… Leonard Cohen’s voice.

Although he’s starting to look a little like the 73 year old man that he is, Lenny still looks great on stage. A steel grey double breasted suit and a slate grey shirt with no tie was toped off with a sharp fedora (grey of course) which made the great man look a little like a mafia don; apparently genteel on the outside but 100% killer on the inside.

And this was confirmed when he opened his mouth to sing the set opener Dance Me To The End Of Love. Quite simply Leonard Cohen’s voice is a force of supernature.

If anything, it sounds better now than it ever did. It was deep and magisterial from start to finish. You could hear every word, every syllable and every nuance and just lie back and indulge in classic song after classic song.

As well as the musicians on stage there was also a chorus of three female singers made up of Cohen’s long term collaborator Sharon Robinson and British duo The Webb Sisters.

Most of the time they provided simple, succinct, soulful backing but on a number of songs they were almost dueting with the maestro. But don’t let that make you think that Lenny was coasting. Far from it.

He gave us nearly every classic from right across his career (Famous Blue Raincoat was perhaps the most… er… famous absent song) and he proved that his songs from the 80s and 90s were as powerful as anything he ever recorded.

Second song of the night, The Future, was particularly powerful and gave Cohenites a chance to play spot the lyric change.

After a short interval the second set started with just Cohen, his backing singers and Hammond player Neil Larson giving us a wonderfully intimate version of Tower of Song which was quickly followed by Suzanne .

Then a few songs later came the one most if us had been waiting for… Hallelujah. Admittedly Leonard doesn’t have the golden voice of Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright but no other version could hold a candle to the performance of this song last night.

With the stage illuminated in bright white light Cohen’s body was clenched like a gospel singer about to testify… and that’s just what he did.

Like every other classic song he played the performance brought another standing ovation and the great man seemed to be genuinely enjoying the love that was being showered on him. In fact the whole show was a complete love-in.

Lenny love us and we loved him, Lenny loved his band and introduced each of them at least 6 times. There was an almost overwhelming atmosphere of grace and gratitude.

The financial disasters which prompted Cohen to return to performing seemed almost worth it. There ain’t no cure for love like this and hallelujah for that.

Ged Gray

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