An Old Master

October 25th, 2009 § 1 comment

Leonard Cohen

If I had to make two assumptions about Leonard Cohen based simply on his stage persona, seen during last night’s concert from a very distant seat at Madison Square Garden, I would assume he is deeply humble and too spry for a man of 75. Hat in hand as he bowed to his band, or waltzing on and off the stage during a ridiculous number of encores, stretching the concert out into a three hour ordeal, it was undeniable that Cohen was having fun. Somehow I would expect the youthful Indie bands I venture out to see to be full of grateful energy rather than an aging Canadian folk singer who’s reputation needs no confirmation, but I realized as I sat listening last night that Cohen was brimming with enjoyment. Speaking to the crowd after a few opening songs, he deep voice rumbling throughout the arena, he thanked us for coming, for braving the rain and the traffic, and said, “I don’t know when I will be passing this way again, so I want you to know….we are going to give you everything we’ve got tonight.” As the crowd surged I thought he had summed up exactly why I was there: who knows when Leonard Cohen will be passing through town again in concert.

The audience reminded me of seeing Paul McCartney back in L.A. years ago now, as for the most part it was an older crowd and a mellow concert, appreciated by people my parents age or older, graying couples who had on dark, Cohen-like fedoras. The higher seats of the venue, however, were filled with young people our age, the next generation who grew up listening to Cohen’s songs, perhaps because of our parents, and perhaps because we stumbled upon them ourselves. The songs of his that I know best are those that are oldest. Cohen alone with his guitar and seductive lyrics reminds me of an early Dylan before his band. The difference between Cohen’s albums and his songs live is that he brings his words to life, changing the intonation and tone to stress a certain meaning—I heard songs I have listened to 100 times before sung so that I almost couldn’t recognize them. I know Cohen’s lyrics to be brooding and beautiful, and also like Dylan he sings almost like he is reading poetry. Last night, when he did recite a few poems, alone in a spotlight on the stage, it was Cohen at his best. No other voice can be so haunting as his emotive rumble.

His band, I suppose, brought the necessary element of fun into the music, perhaps entertainment is the better word. Followed on tour by a group of amazingly impressive musicians of all kinds, Cohen enjoyed showing off their talents. I can’t complain about a great guitar solo, but I much preferred the music that sounded less filtered and finessed. Some of his later songs cross over into being blatantly sentimental, gushing love songs that sound a little strange coming from a tiny elderly man, but a few kept the same dark tone underneath a lively beat. He played almost all my favorite songs, (missing Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye) and after an amazing rendition of Famous Blue Raincoat I almost wanted to get up and leave as nothing, I was sure, could top it. It was a mixed concert with its low points and its jaw-dropping high moments, but I am exceedingly grateful to have seen him in concert before I lost my chance.

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