Leonard Cohen

Concert Review- Leonard Cohen, Broomfield, CO 11/3/12

Our humble Mountain correspondent Nanker Phledge catches the Bard of Brooklyn in Broomfield!

Leonard Cohen– photo by Paul Bergen/European Pressphoto Agency

The first thing I’d have said about  Leonard Cohen before Saturday night was that several brainy women I’ve met over the years have told me that he is a ladies’ man. Which, having seen photos and clips, I found hilarious.  Spock in a Fedora with the voice of Mr. Ed; this is sexy?  But with the news of his return to touring a couple years back, I was drawn by the story of the aging poet/musician ( tough to call him a singer; even his self-mocking lyric ” I was born with a Golden Voice ” brought laughter from the crowd) who awoke in his Zen Bhuddist retreat to find that his longtime  manager had cleaned him out, and was forced back to recording and touring, yet managed to summon the muse sufficiently to release two fine CDs and garner rave reviews on tours around the globe. Reviews of his shows and a recent biography, “I’m Your Man”, by Sylvie Simmons, further piqued my interest, so when offered a ticket by my friends the huge Leonard fans, I gladly jumped at the chance. And folks, as you can see below, your boy Phledge was not springing for these ducats. Thanks again, my dear friends!

This ain’t the no-cover poetry night at the local gin mill!

Now, when they say “ON STAGE PROMPTLY AT 8PM”, they ain’t lyin’. You might’ve thought we were seeing the symphony at the Buell the way the PA called out ” the show will begin in five minutes”, but it was in keeping with Leonard’s holistic approach to the evening, with the stage backdrop, the lighting, the hanging lantern/balloons around the ceiling, even the set list, all calculated to present a unified effect. This was no spontaneous happening, but a carefully choreographed performance, much more like a Broadway musical than a rock show. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it was another lesson in avoiding expectations or bringing your own agenda to a live performance. Leonard was going to do his schtick, brilliant as it is, and there was no point wishing for something else that night. Like improvisation or spontaneity! Yet, the man pulled it all off, in spades, even for a hard-boiled cynic like Yours Truly.

The pacing of the show was impressive. A song would end, the stage and backscreen lights would dim, techs ( also rockin’ Fedoras) would exchange instruments and hustle off, the lights would come up, and Leonard would lead the band into the next tune, sometimes by an a capella recitation of the chorus or lead-in that would later be sung with the full ensemble, including his version of the I-Threes, collaborator Sharon Robinson and the sublime Webb Sisters. The band was stellar, with virtuosos from Barcelona, Moldovia, and Mexico all taking nice runs and solos to the apparent rapt attention of Leonard, who would stand respectfully facing the soloist with his Fedora over his heart in tribute. These gestures may be well-rehearsed, and repeated night after well-paid night, but Leonard managed to make them appear heartfelt and genuine.

Leonard took the band through several tunes well-known to the packed house of Caucasian geezers and young hipsters, including ” Suzanne”, ” Everybody Knows”, and ” I’m Your Man”. Unlike most frontmen who expand their gestures and moves as the venues grow larger, Leonard took the opposite tack, compacting his movement into a batter’s stance-like crouch, with only short, well-timed hand or foot movements to punctuate lyrics and choruses. Riding his longevity, familiar catalog, and poet’s gravitas, Cohen held the crowd’s rapt attention, even when letting his able sidemen take their turns in the spotlight.

Following a song toward the end of the first set, Cohen lifted the mike before the applause stopped and began an a capella recitation of his poem  ” A Thousand Kisses Deep”.  For even the most compelling performers, this risks killing the show’s momentum, forcing the artist to start over with the audience. Cohen was so convincing in his delivery, and so absorbed in the message, that it almost seemed rude to speak or interrupt him. Instead of dragging the show down, the spoken word seemed to inspire the crowd, and Cohen ripped through two other numbers ( Hey, I admitted I don’t know his catalog) before announcing a brief Intermission… again resembling a night at the opera or symphony.

The second set included more of his older, well-known songs, including the oft-covered     ” Hallelujah” and ” Anthem”. Cohen opened by playing a small electric piano, and when he was able to struggle through a short, thoroughly pedestrian melodic interval with his right hand, the adoring crowd cheered as if he had nailed Rachmaninoff. “Thank you, music lovers”, Leonard responded sarcastically, knowing that most of his band could have played that with their feet. He graciously let all of the singers take their turns, and the players their solos, introducing each as the finest exponent of his instrument on the planet, as if he were the Sparky Anderson of bandleaders. When everyone had been introduced twice, he gleefully skipped — yes, the 78 year old guy looked nimble- offstage to close the show and begin the Third Act– the encores. I lost track after he had come back onstage three times and played at least seven songs- not that I’m bitchin’! The man displayed incredible stamina and control throughout, and there seemed not to be a lyric, note, or gesture that was beyond his watchful gaze onstage.

When the lights finally came on and it was clear that he was not coming back again, there seemed to be a cathartic exhale from the crowd. It’s exhausting to have someone command your attention for two hours, and for virtually every minute, you just couldn’t keep your eyes off the guy. Truly one of the most compelling onstage performers I’ve witnessed, despite a langorous voice that makes James McMurtry sound melodic, and no vocal range whatsoever. But who needs a perfect voice? As Leonard Cohen sings in “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

Sometimes light gets through the crack in Mr. Phledge’s halo — Ed.

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