Published on April 22, 2013
Leonard Cohen waves his trademark fedora at the crowd as he leaves the stage after his final encore of the night at Mile One, having performed for almost four hours. — Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram
Published on April 22, 2013
Leonard Cohen performed at Mile One Centre Saturday night to the delight of thousands of fans.
— Photo By Rhonda Hayward/The TelegramLeonard Cohen
A word of advice, if ever you have another chance to see Leonard Cohen live in concert: when you get into your vehicle to go home after it’s over, don’t turn on the radio. Everything you hear will sound like garbage.
I made this mistake Saturday night after Cohen’s performance at Mile One, which lasted almost four hours, including a 15-minute intermission. I can’t think of many musicians for which I’d willingly sit through a four-hour concert, but with Cohen, honestly, if he had played again Sunday night, I’d have wanted to be there.
Attending the show was less like watching a concert and more like taking in a piece of performance art.
While Cohen was on stage at Mile One, he won the 2013 JUNO Award for Artist of the Year at a non-televised dinner gala in Regina, beating out Justin Bieber.
The number of posts on Twitter from teens asking, “Who?” and proclaiming the unfairness was both laughable and heartbreaking.
Cohen’s son Adam accepted the award.
Just as well, really — there’s no way he could have possibly gotten more praise or appreciation than he was shown in St. John’s, with a grateful audience of close to 10,000 hanging on his every word and move, applauding after each song as if it was his last of the night.
He opened with “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and afterwards reminisced on the last time he performed in this province — five years ago, at Holy Heart Theatre.
“I hope this is not a farewell tour,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “But you never know when we’ll meet again. I promise, for tonight, we’re going to give you all we’ve got.”
On stage with Cohen weren’t merely backup performers. Each of his band members were accomplished musicians in their own right, from musical director and bassist Roscoe Beck — who’s worked with Cohen since the late 1970s — to vocalist Sharon Robinson, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and co-writer of songs including “Everybody Knows.”
Others included the English-born singer/songwriters Charley and Hattie Webb (who record and perform as the Webb Sisters), and famed Spanish bandurria player Javier Mas.
Cohen introduced his band and crew — right down to the rigger — and gave them their turns to shine with solos. Robinson received a standing ovation for her performance of “Alexandra Leaving,” which she co-wrote with Cohen, while the Webb Sisters did a serene rendition of “If It Be Your Will,” accompanying themselves on guitar and harp.
In his trademark fedora and a dark grey suit, Cohen went through many of his older hits, like “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” “First We Take Manhattan,” “Suzanne,” and “I’m Your Man.”
The room was silent as he performed a haunting spoken-word version of “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” and after he dropped to his knees to sing the iconic “Hallelujah,” earning one of many standing ovations throughout the night, the chatter throughout the crowd overtook the beginning notes of the song that followed.
Missing from Cohen’s set was “Chelsea Hotel,” but he did include a number of songs from his latest record, “Old Ideas,” released last year and for which he’s currently touring. They fit seamlessly into the rest of his material.
Cohen rarely looked up as he sang, preferring to let the brim of his hat cover his eyes as he bowed his head, and he sang the majority of his songs with his eyes closed.
The moments when he did open his eyes and look into the crowd were used almost as punctuation to his incredible lyrics and poetry.
With many of the pieces, he had a passion like he was performing them for the very first time, emotion causing him to get on his knees, or, in the case of “Lover, Lover, Lover,” seem lost in thought as he was singing.
He peppered his pieces with a dry comedy, little snippets here and there.
“We really appreciate the attention you’ve given our music, not just tonight but over the years,” he said, before launching into a bit about the drawbacks of staying in nice hotel rooms.
“One hazard is in the bathroom, and it’s the magnifying mirror. I’m warning you, friends, if you’re over the age of 11, do not look into one of those mirrors.”
It was while looking into a magnifying mirror that Cohen heard the whisper of his inner voice: “Lighten up, Cohen, for Christ’s sake. How long are you going to pout? What fine adjustment must be made in the cosmos for you … ?”
In another bit, Cohen joked that one of the reasons he wanted to stay on the road was because he wants to start smoking again when he’s 80. He’s now 78.
“I’ve got a couple of years to go, but this is the point in the concert when I’d light up my first cigarette,” he said, chuckling, before eventually launching into “Anyhow,” a song from “Old Ideas,” into which Cohen injected humour in the presentation that’s not quite so obvious on the CD.
“Have mercy on me, baby. After all, I did confess. Even though you have to hate me. Could you hate me less?” he spoke over a jazz beat performed by the band.
When the band left the stage after “Take This Waltz,” it was clear there would be an encore, and there was.
There were four of them, in fact: 10 songs or so in total, including “So Long Marianne,” “Closing Time,” a rare performance of “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and a version of The Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
Each time, Cohen skipped back on stage and danced to the microphone, grinning.
For a finale, Cohen cheekily performed “I Tried to Leave You.”
“He was fantastic, with such stamina and warmth I have never experienced,” local musician Vicky Hynes told me after the show.
Hynes has been producing the “Feast of Cohen” tribute show each Christmas week for the past 13 years (it’s the longest-running festival of Cohen’s music in Canada and second only to Spain’s worldwide), and in the weeks leading up to Cohen’s appearance at Mile One, there was a social media campaign to have her introduce him onstage.
It wasn’t to be, but Hynes and a handful of other “Feast of Cohen” participants were invited to meet Cohen after his sound check Saturday afternoon.
After a personal performance of about an hour and a half, Cohen came down from the stage and thanked them for coming, before presenting them with VIP bags that included autographed copies of his tour program.
Hynes, a longtime devoted fan, admits she cried during the concert.
“I wish I could go to sleep and wake up to relive (it),” she told me.
I have a feeling Hynes isn’t the only one.