Sunday, 16 November 2008

Leonard Cohen

What was it about the old musos? Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and now Leonard Cohen - they're all old enough to be in rocking chairs, not rocking arenas. Maybe if you survive all those drugs you become immortal or something.

Lauren and I went to the excellent O2 Arena to see Leonard Cohen on Friday night. The guy's 74, we thought, he's not going to be around for much longer. Even if he's rubbish, at least we could say we'd seen him.

He wasn't rubbish.

Cohen is a great lyricist and songwriter - the best description I've read of him is a "the poet laureate of high maintenance love affairs" (see Chelsea Hotel #2 or A Thousand Kisses Deep for example) - but there's one thing that really sets him apart.

The band comes on stage, followed by a straight-backed man in an elegant dark grey suit and matching fedora. A waltz-like beat starts, the three women singing backup begin a low 'la la la la', and Cohen opens his mouth to say the word 'dance'. Around the arena, thousands of people gasp. That voice.

Cohen's voice is to singing what the Marianas Trench is to nature. Deep, dark and incredibly seductive, it draws you in and floats you away. As you'd expect, Cohen didn't do a lot of running around stage, and only played an instrument three or four times, but when you've got a voice like that - and a terrific backing band - you don't need to.

What you wouldn't expect is that he'd play for two hours and forty minutes - excluding a break. It was fabulous stuff. Many of the songs were better live than, with his 80s tunes stripped of the cheesey frills and many songs infused with virtuoso playing of a double-stringed lute-like instrument (a tamburitza?). So many of the songs were wonderful, it would have been hard to pick a highlight - had he not played Hallelujah. I don't like his original version that much - it's fgot those 80s frills that make it far inferior to the Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright covers - but this version ... wow.

Lauren summed it up: "I don't think any live music that will top Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah live".

Amen.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Dammit dude, I'm going to see Cohen in January. You just had to get there first, didn't you?