Thu, Apr 18, 2013.
I imagine everyone who attends a Leonard Cohen concert feels lucky. There's a sense of amazement in the audience, that this 78-year old can perform such an inspired show night after night, defying his age, even his body, with spry moves and unflagging energy. Plus, the legendary wit and charm has only been amplified by the decades. Perhaps the edge of his younger days has gone, the danger in his coal-black stare replaced by a twinkle and a raft of self-deprecating jokes. Many of his songs, especially the later ones, play on supposed faults. He plays them for laughs in concert, whether it's his "gift of a golden voice", or the recent "lazy bastard living in a suit" from Going Home on his new album, Old Ideas. The jokes, spoken or sung, the singing from his knees, the skipping and dancing, it's all part of the show, and his new millenium transition from merchant of gloom to Beloved Entertainer.
A friend of mine (okay, a cousin) put it well on Facebook: "It's just as much a show of cordialness as a show of musical talent." Known for his graciousness in person, Cohen extends that now to the huge crowds, thanking all profusely, and practically refusing to leave the stage or wait for an extended call for an encore, saying "I know it's a school night, but we've come all this way, and who knows when we'll see each other again, so we thought we'd play a few more songs for you." Notice the "we" there, it's never about just Cohen on stage. Few go as far to acknowledge and feature the band as he, not only giving several introductions, but stepping aside for solos from all, even handing his vocal trio of Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters the lead on two numbers. And when introducing the band at the end of the first set, he also took the time to name the five key members of his road crew, possibly the first time the head rigger has ever been honoured on stage.
For many, this crack band was an equal highlight in the nearly-four hour show, both in its subtle backing and the restrained but tremendous solos. The group has changed a bit from his initial tour five years ago that came to Moncton, and the addition of violinist Alexandru Bublitchi and 12-string bandurria player Javier Mas has made for more expressive instrumental moments. For those of us who saw the last Cohen shows in this province, the very opening dates of this 5-year extended run, there was some trepidation that the switch from intimate, soft-seat venues of under a thousand seats to the cold hockey arenas would be a much less personable experience. But somehow the show actually felt warmer, the band more personable, Cohen friendlier. It's probable that after five years they've got this down to a fine art. Certainly there were none of the nerves of the opening night Fredericton show I was at back in 2008, and near the end of the night I realized that we'd witnessed a flawless show, not a note out of place. That is, until the drummer missed catching his brush after he tossed it in the air during his encore solo on the very last song.
There were plenty of touches and acknowledgements of the area. Cohen referred to beginning his tour here five years before, and prefaced several of the songs with introductions in perfect French, for the Acadian audience. Plus he sang a cover song, La Manic, by Québécois singer/songwriter Georges Dor, which he had first performed back in November in Montreal. Again, the lengths he goes to connect with, to give to, and to respect audience and his co-workers is not just impressive, it's inspirational. I guess that's the whole story really, that inspiration. We want to be like him at his age, in such grand health and humour, and such an interesting person. We want to see the joy that's out there, find the crack in the darkness where the light gets in, and have a few sexy stories to tell later on in life. It makes us happy that Leonard Cohen has been alive in our time.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).