When Leonard Cohen took the stage at TPAC's Jackson Hall last night, he and his band probably could have soaked up the rapturous applause for half an hour, but they went right to work, opening with a breezy rendition of "Dance Me to the End of Love." Sitting in our snug theater seats (an unusual comfort for us), we needed about three songs before we got our heads around the fact that yes, we were actually here. In the same room with Leonard Cohen. (Leonard Cohen!) And he was onstage singing these songs to us.
Once the initial buzz wore off (and before our malty one took hold), we realized that one of the great songwriters of all time was up there surrounded by a really slick Adult Contemporary band. Have we ever thought that "Bird on the Wire" might be improved by making it sound more like "Wonderful Tonight"? Why, no, we haven't. If it was anybody else singing any other set of songs to an accompaniment this smooth, we might have nodded off or walked out somewhere around the hour mark--the words "Kenny" and "G" had bubbled up in our thoughts, and trust us, that does not feel good. But this was Leonard Cohen, and if there is something more sublime than hearing his voice fill a room with poetry, it is not for sale on this earth (that we know of). Stylish, energetic and sharp, he had us by the vertebrae the entire night.
While we were hoping for some of the grittier songs--"Is This What You Wanted," "The Butcher," etc.--that isn't really where Cohen's heart is these days, and we're fine with that. He paused at one point to thank us for sharing this evening with him and to remind us how lucky we all were just to be able to see a show like this, "with so much of the world plunged in chaos." Lucky doesn't even begin to cover it. And he was funny, too! He introduced "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" by telling a story of riding the elevator and asking a woman (presumably Janis Joplin, the song's subject) if she was looking for someone. "Kris Kristofferson," she answered. "You're in luck," he says he replied. A wonderfully chilling "Everybody Knows" and "Who by Fire"--complete with mesmerizing solo Spanish guitar intro--were highlights among highlights from the first set. During the intermission, we grabbed some beer in the lobby, where everyone from film auteurs (Harmony Korine) to political big-wigs (Chip Forrester) was milling about and waiting for the miracle to resume.
In addition to belting forcefully on "So Long, Marianne," Cohen bounded back onto the stage for each of the encores, displaying more energy than we can dream of having at age 75 (if we make it that long). He changed up a few lyrics here and there--replacing "anal sex" with "careless sex" in "The Future," for example--and played with the melodies a bit, but mostly he just reinforced how indelible these songs are. Even when a gaudy saxophone solo interrupted the dreary beauty of "Famous Blue Raincoat"--the concert equivalent of watching Casablanca and hearing Bogey say, "Play it again, Jar Jar"--Cohen drew us all right back into the song the second he began incanting another verse into his microphone. "Here's a man," he sang near show's end, "still working for your smile." Aw, Lenny--you had us at "I tried to leave you."
[Set list at LeonardCohenForum.com]