Sunday, March 3, 2013
The Paramount Theatre
Better than: Four 20-year-olds put together.
It's doubtful that any aspiring musicians think to themselves, "I want to be the best performer in the world when I'm 78." And yet, last night's performance by Leonard Cohen makes concerts put on by even the most seasoned rock 'n' roll veterans feel like amateur hour.
"I don't know when we'll meet again," Cohen said from onstage. "But tonight, we'll give you all we've got." And, with a deep respect for the fact that this could be the last time we see Leonard Cohen live (let alone alive), they did.
At three and a half hours, including three three-song encores, the show could very well have been sponsored by Red Bull. But not in the literal sense. There was nothing over-the-top, nor frenetic; instead, it was an impressive feat of stamina, as though Cohen was taking an endurance test right before your eyes.
The timbre of his voice has reached otherworldly lows, and his range isn't what it used to be. But who else can deliver an unaccompanied poem and bring tears to the eyes of several generations' of audience members? Cohen's performance, the seamless union of understated showmanship (each of the nine backing musicians got numerous solos) and unforgettable subtleties (who still has backup singers who dance in unison?) -- this is the stuff legends are made of.
The blood of a 20-year-old must flow through the veins of this septuagenarian. Looking sharp in a suit and fedora; either standing, dancing, or kneeling for three hours; and appearing as though he could never tire, Cohen is the epitome of a class act, putting to shame young bands whose members refuse to wash their shirts, make eye contact, or perform an encore.
Last year Cohen released his twelfth studio album, Old Ideas, a mere 44 years after his 1967 debut. It is his highest-charting album to date -- no small feat for a prolific 77-year-old's collection of songs thematically centered around memory and mortality. But Cohen is a far cry from retirement, refusing wholeheartedly to be considered obsolete.
But enough about age. The beauty of Cohen's music and lyrics is that they are, in every sense, timeless.
And as cheesy as it may sound, there is something almost spiritual about Cohen's presence. His performance comes closer to a preacher's sermon (or rather, a rabbi's) than a concert. There were moments of incredible tenderness and humility, as when he would take off his hat and hold it to his chest while facing each musician during their solo, or how he allowed his backup singers to each sing an original of their own.
After old classics like "Bird on a Wire," "Suzanne," "Who by Fire," and "Hallelujah," there were tears. But at other times, Cohen's self-deprecating humor had the audience in stitches: "Sometimes I make my way to the mirror, see my doleful face, and say to myself, Lighten up Cohen, for Christ's sake! How long are you going to pout?" And occasionally, there were tears and laughter at once, as with the spoken poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep," both chilling ("I'm just another snowman standing in the rain and sleet") and lighthearted ("who loved you with his frozen love, his second-hand physique").
Maybe we've failed to properly introduce the venerable musician and chronicle his prolific career. But what can be said to someone who is not familiar with Leonard Cohen's music? Well, for starters, "Eat your peas," "Go clean your room," and "Do your homework." Assumedly, these would be the same poor young'uns who made the question "Who is Paul McCartney?" a Twitter meme during 2012's Grammy Awards.
So, to those of you who don't know "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" and haven't raided your parents' (or grandparents') record collection, suffice it to say: Leonard Cohen put out a lot of albums and books of poetry, has millions of fans, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, wrote arguably some of the best lyrics of all times, dated Janis Joplin (yes, you can Google her too), and, based on last night's marathon performance, still has way more energy than most people's grandparents.