April 15, 2009
The Paramount Theatre
By Steven Gdula
Better than: Most performers one quarter of his age.
Given the circumstances surrounding his current tour, no one would've blamed Leonard Cohen if he'd only played a 90-minute set Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre before bidding the audience adieu. Cohen, who was forced last year to take his show - and his soon-to-be 75-year-old self - around the world after bad business dealings left him nearly broke, is so respected as both a poet and a composer that he gets a standing ovation for simply showing up. So considering the motivation for the tour, not to mention his senior status and his decade and a half absence from the stage, Cohen's fans would've appreciated just one hour of his time and talent last night. Instead? He gave them nearly three.
Spry and energetic, Cohen ran onto the stage as if hurriedly making up for those 15 years he'd been away from it. Whether with his hat in hand, or crooning down on one knee, he played the poet-supplicant for the course of over an hour through songs "Dance Me To The End Of Love," "Anthem," and "In My Secret Life." In humbled lyrics that often seemed to apologize that all he could offer were words, Cohen deferred to the power that his lover, his god, his peers, and his audience held over him. Only in "Chelsea Hotel," a song that he has since admitted was "mean" in its portrayal of Janis Joplin, did he seem cocksure and cavalier.The second set opened with "Tower Of Song" and was marked by a more confident, even swaggering Cohen than the first. Through both sets his voice was remarkable and strong; round and robust in its lowest register and clear and unstrained in its highest reaches. As expected, his band's performance was superbly nuanced and exquisitely mixed with tones of Klezmer, Left Bank café, waltzes, and folk.
Cohen's character and career are rarely mentioned now without a reference to his study of Buddhism, but the singer/ songwriter of last night's performance was more like the questioning psalmist of the Bible. More plaintive than pensive, even at this stage of his career, his most prophetic statement came in "Anthem," when he sang, "There's a crack in everything/ that's how the light gets in."
Awareness of that light could be the reason Cohen gave such a heartfelt goodbye to his fans, blessing and thanking them for allowing him in.
Personal Bias: "Hallelujah" reduces me to a five tissue sob every time I hear it.
Random Detail: Celeb pair of the night - Sean Penn with Jello Biafra.
Can't help but wonder: if anybody bought one of the $125 Unified Heart Touring heart-insignia leather tote bags?
By the way: The Fox Theater, where Franz Ferdinand also played last night, was all but deserted when the Cohen show finally let out. Better rest up kids, Leonard's going to school your asses at Coachella.
Also see: Our full Leonard Cohen slideshow here.