herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

Friend delivers masterclass of musicianship

Review: Leonard Cohen

I quite enjoy being Leonard Cohen's friend. It makes you feel special. Maybe he told the crowd in Birmingham that same story about the magnifying mirror in his hotel bathroom. Perhaps he also thanked the fans in the expensive seats for "endangering their household budgets". But I don't care. It's a year since those freezing outdoor shows in Kilmainham, where Cohen (below) last charmed his way into our hearts. And, yet, it feels longer.

Tonight, the Canadian gent in the grey suit is all ours again. For three and a half hours. Because Cohen is not yet ready to hang up his boxing gloves. At 78, he dances, skips and falls to his knees, serenading us with that extraordinary voice of his. The voice of God – laced with humour and dripping with irony. Indeed, Cohen's good with romance; he's better at recounting the details.

Enthralled

An incomparable storyteller, Cohen plays several roles on that big old stage. Singer, guitarist, keyboardist – there are no limits. Lifting the fedora from his head to pay respect to his colleagues, he introduces an enthralled audience to the band. Sharon Robinson is as breathtaking as ever, especially on the magnificent Alexandra Leaving. The Webb Sisters continue to coat Cohen's catalogue with exquisite harmonies.

On I'm Your Man, his followers remember to sing along. "Thank you so much, my friends" (I told you we were mates). If it's possible, his voice is better now than it ever was. On The Future, Cohen goes in search of a little boogie. He later finds it under flashing lights on First We Take Manhattan. There are some exceptional musicians in this gang (guitarist Javier Mas's fretwork is out of this world). Again, their leader likes to join in. During Tower of Song, he lights a fire under his keyboard as the audience chuckles with excitement. "Are you humouring me?" he asks. It's not enough for Cohen to be a superior poet (A Thousand Kisses Deep is beautiful) or an astonishing songwriter (Hallelujah still works). He's gotta be a gifted stand-up, too.

Peerless

Just when you think you've seen everything on this memorable evening of elegant and peerless musicianship, the master decides that he doesn't want to go home. Which is fine by us. First, he bids Marianne adieu. Later, he delivers Closing Time as if trying to tell us something. But Cohen's still skipping. Still shaking his hips. Still smiling. He tried to leave us – we weren't having any of it. "Goodnight, my darling, I hope you're satisfied." That and more, Leonard. I hope to see you again, friend. HHHHH

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