Leonard Cohen weaves timeless magic in Vancouver

Canada's most famous poet still looking spry at 75

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      At Rogers Arena on Thursday, December 2

      Leonard Cohen is on top of the world, living a poet-vagabond’s dream. Since he started touring again in May 2008, after a long hiatus, he’s performed three-hour shows in more than 200 cities on four continents, and far from showing signs of fatigue, the 75-year-old looks spry and fit, and happy to be on stage. For his performance at Rogers Arena, Cohen came on jogging, and, at the end of the long first set, he literally pranced off, with one arm raised and flapping comically.

      The Montreal–born writer and singer was happy to be in his homeland once again. “It must have been 40 years ago after a show in England some journalist wrote ”˜Leonard Cohen is a boring old drone, and should go the fuck back to Canada where he belongs,’ ” he told the sold-out audience at one point. After listing off a string of great Canadian artists from Gordon Lightfoot to Neil Young, he ended with “Well, I got that off my chest.” The crowd roared, and Cohen beamed, before launching into “Anthem”, savouring the chorus: “There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in”. He proved that poetic affirmation with his voice, which was rough, dark, and frayed at the edges yet superbly luminous, with all lyrics clearly articulated to make the words shine.

      Cohen reeled through a back-catalogue of his greatest songs. The list and the order were essentially the same as on his previous Vancouver visit in April last year, but nobody was complaining or yelling out for favourites. The audience stayed rapt, hanging on every word, and the sound was so good you could hear every syllable.

      A dry, almost-monotone delivery is Cohen’s way of drawing the listener in; if he drones, that’s an asset not a fault. His singing on this night was mesmeric and cleverly nuanced, the phrasing and slight shifts of timbre, volume, and texture making the performance captivating. For “The Future” he raised his voice to a growl in places as he railed against brutality and stupidity. For “Bird on a Wire” he drew out the spaces between lines to suggest the bewilderment of a man confronted by his own dark side.

      The singer’s gestures were also carefully calibrated to enhance the sense of intimacy. Most of the time Cohen was hunched over the microphone in his left hand, while his right hand responded to lyrics with small clutching or waving motions. In many songs he got down on his knees at the front of the stage, not to evoke prayer but to increase his sense of vulnerability and closeness to the audience. As a result, this didn’t feel like a show in a hockey arena.

      Cohen also kneeled several times in front of Catalan-strings wizard Javier Mas as his sideman played solos on bandurria, Cuban laud, archilaud, and guitar. Canada's most famous poet seemed genuinely in awe of his nine-piece band, and with good cause—all the musicians played magnificently. Keyboardist Neil Larsen was superb on Hammond B3 organ, embellishing songs with swirling flourishes, Dino Soldo displayed a master’s command of an array of instruments (saxophone, electronic clarinet, keyboards, and harmonica), keeping the sonic textures varied. And Cohen’s ultra-low register was sweetly offset by his three backing singers Sharon Robinson, and sisters Charley and Hattie Webb, the latter occasionally playing a suitably angelic small harp.

      Toward the end of the show Cohen, who treated the audience with great respect and gratitude throughout, confided that it might be a while before he returned this way. Let’s hope not. His performance was warm and immensely dignified, and the skip in his parting step hinted that he’s still having a blast being a song and dance man, as well as a great poet.



      Grace Prendergast

      Dec 3, 2010 at 1:33pm

      I just love and respect this fine man so much, He's a true gentleman and also quite a HUNK! Hopefully he and the wonderful, wonderful backing group will grace us all again in the not too distant future. Would love to meet him over dinner some evening and chat about life et all. Well it's always good to dream.....


      Dec 3, 2010 at 2:24pm

      Over the course of 40 years I have seen them all and this was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen. Leonard Cohen is, well... Leonard Cohen: deep, funny, classy, political, warm, undeniable. The band was absolutely awesome; they play both engagingly and flawlessly. Sharon Robinson and the Webbs sing astoundingly clear and tight harmonies. All the musicians are first rate. A great, great concert. A great human being.


      Dec 3, 2010 at 11:24pm

      The world would be a better place if we had more artists like Leonard Cohen. I feel lucky to have been able to see him last night.

      Tim Dale

      Dec 4, 2010 at 9:48am

      Some of us over here in England just seem to really appreciate 'boring old drones' from Canada. I had to travel to Belgium to see Leonard perform this year and hope he will return to England again soon.


      Dec 4, 2010 at 4:27pm

      It was completely characteristic of his concerts of these last two years, and the second round of the same setlist for Vancouver. He played to a full audience in a hockey arena and was in great form., dancing and completely into each of the songs he's sung so many times before~~

      Set list~~

      Leonard Cohen
      Concert of 2 December 2010
      Vancouver, BC, CANADA
      Rogers Arena

      Dance Me to the End of Love
      The Future
      There Ain't No Cure for Love
      Bird on a Wire
      Everybody Knows
      My Secret LIfe
      Guitar Instrumental by Javier Mas
      Who By Fire
      I Caught the Darkness
      First We Take Manhattan
      Chelsea Hotel
      Waiting for the Miracle


      Tower of Song
      The Singer Must Die
      Sisters of Mercy
      Gypsy Wife
      The Partisan
      Boogie Street
      I'm Your Man
      One Thousand Kisses Deep
      Take This Waltz


      So Long Marianne
      If It Be Your Will
      Closing Time.

      Ken M

      Dec 8, 2010 at 11:07pm

      Absolutely fantastic show. I was even lucky enough to meet Leonard after the show at his hotel! A true gentlemen and class act.Hope he comes to town at least one more time.

      Frank Turdshoe

      Dec 10, 2010 at 8:25am

      A magical evening poetry,prose and polish.