Leonard Cohen in Concert
December 7, 2012
Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, Ontario
Leonard Cohen trotted with ease up the short staircase onstage, wearing his signature suit and fedora. He was ten minutes late, but that’s nothing for most performers. There was no opener. This was solo Cohen, unsullied by any up-and-comers or second hats.
A five-piece band was assembled behind him, and off to his right stood three backup singers – all in formal wear. Two big, worn-looking Persian carpets were laid out in Cohen’s foot-space, and a pair of old living-room chairs were set to his left for the two guitarists.
I admit my expectations were low – I was barely acquainted with Cohen’s music, he’s 78 years old, and he was touring, at least in part, they say, because his former manager had robbed him of his millions while he was studying Zen Buddhism in California. But his set-up was professional. It looked as though he had no problem embracing his own legend once again. Not only did Cohen far surpass my expectations, he won a new fan mainly on the strength of a live show – impressive for a musician who’s aged 45 years since his debut.
Cohen’s voice has changed from the days of “Suzanne” (which he performed during this show, along with several of his other old stand-bys), sounding remarkably deep, and more gravelly than it did on his recordings from the 1990s. Stand-out performances included “Bird on the Wire,” “Everybody Knows,” “Who By Fire,” “Amen,” “The Partisan,” and “So Long Marianne.” Once or twice Cohen performed without instrumentation, most effectively on the haunting “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” He also raised his own guitar for a couple of numbers, and played an electric keyboard for one of the cuts from 1988’s I’m Your Man.
He established a warm and friendly rapport with the audience, cracking jokes about the technological complexity of his keyboard and beginning an encore with the lilting “I Tried to Leave You.” In addition to strong, energetic performances, Cohen and the band delivered a welcome four encores, bringing their performance time to about three and a half hours.
The high ticket price is well worth it for one of these performances, whether you’ve been following Cohen from the ’60s or just have a passing interest. You won’t regret it.