Concert review | Troubadour Leonard Cohen delivers masterful WaMu show
Concert Review: Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen performed a masterful sold-out show in Seattle April 23 at WaMu Theater, demonstrating that the 74-year-old troubadour is the best interpreter of his own canon; review by Misha Berson.
Seattle Times arts critic
He has not performed in Seattle in about 15 years, Leonard Cohen told his sold-out WaMu Theater crowd on Thursday. The last time was back when he was only 60, he cracked, and "just a crazy kid with a dream."
Cohen fans could not have dreamed of a more fulfilling, transporting return by the esteemed Canadian troubadour. With a luxuriant band and three backup singers, all of whom have accompanied him on his current world "comeback" tour, Cohen graciously welcomed the crowd into his "tower of song." And like a poet-shaman of old, he put us under a seamless, timeless musical trance that lasted more than three hours.
Now a spry 74, Cohen literally skipped onto the WaMu stage, to the strains of his rapturous love song, "Dance Me to the End of Love." Looking gangster-of-love sharp in his trademark black suit and rakish fedora (his band sported the same look), Cohen swirled us through the riches of his songbook — from the witty doomsday scenarios ("The Future"), to the love ballads of heartbroken jubilations ("Ain't No Cure for Love"), to the incisive anthems ("Democracy") and haunting incantations ("Hallelujah").
Cushioning his "thousand kisses deep" voice (still a surprisingly sturdy basso rasp) were the musicians saluted repeatedly by the Buddhist-Jewish singer with warm praise, and reverential bows from the waist.
The band earned his love, with lush instrumental arrangements that brought out the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flavor of Cohen's minor-key melodies. The work of Javier Mas, a Spanish virtuoso of such string instruments as the bandurria, and the snake-charming horn solos of Dino Soldo on a variety of horns, were especially savory. And the celestial harmonies of British sisters Charley and Hattie Webb, and vocal interplay of Sharon Robinson (co-composer of "Everybody Knows" and other Cohen odes), were integral to the mix.
But the songs of human failing and transcendence Cohen has wrought over a lifetime could soar even without such fine embellishment. Marbled with biblical allusions and existential ironies, prayers and omens, apocalypse and celebration, sexual politics and political metaphysics, they are novellas and elegies and sermons on the mount.
And they're saved from pretentiousness by wit, and self-mockery, and sheer genius.
The complexity and erudition of Cohen's songs make most pop-music lyrics seem like nursery rhymes. "The dealer wants you thinkin' it's either black or white," he intoned. "Thank God it's not that simple, in my secret life."
Arguably, save Bob Dylan, no other pop bard has stockpiled three hours of material as profound, eloquent and enigmatic as what Cohen and company performed. But while he rose to fame in the 1960s alongside Dylan and others, the Montreal native was not shaped so much by folk Americana as by Beat poetics and the chansons of such French balladeer as Jacques Brel.
It was folkie diva Judy Collins who first popularized Cohen's songs ("Suzanne," "Famous Blue Raincoat") in the U.S. And when Cohen's debut album appeared in 1967, many listeners preferred Collins' prettier treatments of his tunes to his own craggy-voiced, string-drenched renditions.
But at WaMu, there was no doubt that the songwriter is now recognized as the definitive interpreter of his own canon. For eloquence and intimacy, his expressive voice-of-God delivery of such standards as "Bird on the Wire" could hardly be bested.
"Ring the bells, that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering," he sang. But on this concert tour, perhaps but hopefully not his last, Cohen's offering was as close to perfection as one dares to imagine.
Misha Berson: email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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