Cohen enthralls crowd for almost 4 hours

Tara Bradbury
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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.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Holy Heart Theatre, Chelsea Hotel, The Drifters

Geographic location: Regina, Canada, Spain

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Recent comments

  • Carla Marini
    May 19, 2013 - 03:39

    Dopo l'indimenticabile concerto del 24 /9/ 2012, all'Arena di Verona, "CARI ARTISTI" Vi aspetto con gioia ed emozione a Roma ( 7/7/2013).ciao..ciaoooo!!!

  • anthony arditto
    April 26, 2013 - 04:48

    we are waiting with baited breath for his return to australia just to see & hear him sing and win us again. i have been a fan since the sixties .so much respect for him . he sings & writes from the soul.

  • Elizabeth
    April 25, 2013 - 15:03

    EXCELLENT and fitting review filled with truth! Curious to me who appears never to have seen him would claim Hallelujah as the one song they like, at the the same time they weren't even there, so no real opportunity to like ~ yes, even love ~ others. And be pedantic about the numbers there, as though that were the point... filled to capacity is what matters. In my late 60's ~ seen him numerous times ~ love only increases and magnifies ~ a shame that someone out there, who's aware of him isn't pursuing the opportunity while they have it, yet make it a point to comment negatively.

  • Anna
    April 22, 2013 - 11:50

    It was the best concert I ever attended at Mile One, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have more performers like him perform there, people would pay the extra to go. I too have a complaint though, why do people sing along with every song and I don't mean to themselves, we had to tell the group behind us to stop singing, they were drowning out Mr. Cohen's voice. Don't people know the difference between a performance and a rock concert? Also, to people who wanted to talk throughout the whole concert, that is why there is a bar downstairs.

    • Mike McGettrick
      May 04, 2013 - 02:49

      I've been to a Leonard Cohen "sing along" concert in Ireland and it was the most the amazing experience. Just imagine a choir of 10,000 people singing along with "The Lord of Song". There were times when Leonard stood on the stage, allowed the audience to do it on their own, and you could tell he was in absolute awe. He mentioned there were tears shed on the stage. It was a truly emotional experience.

    • Mike McGettrick
      May 04, 2013 - 03:35

      I've been to a Leonard Cohen "sing along" concert in Ireland and it was the most the amazing experience. Just imagine a choir of 10,000 people singing along with "The Lord of Song". There were times when Leonard stood on the stage, allowed the audience to do it on their own, and you could tell he was in absolute awe. He mentioned there were tears shed on the stage. It was a truly emotional experience.

  • Darren
    April 22, 2013 - 10:43

    Judi, does it really matter? Seems like you want to find something to complain sad is that. If you must, must know......I'd say there were about 5500 in the stands and about 2500 on the floor so that would total about 8000. I stand to be corrected......I'm sure you are good at that too.

  • Minnie
    April 22, 2013 - 10:42

    I too was at the concert Saturday evening and only wish it would repeat once more for me in my life time. I felt so lucky to have experience Cohen in my life.

  • jm
    April 22, 2013 - 09:38

    Thanks for the review Tara. I was out of town & just got back last night or else I would have been there. Wasn't there supposed to be a show Sunday as well? Do you know why it was cancelled?

  • Tara Bradbury, arts reporter
    April 22, 2013 - 08:56

    Hi Judi, The "close to 10,000" was my estimate for the review. Mile One seats just under 7,000 in the stands.... this doesn't include floor seats set up for concerts.

  • Judi Barter
    April 22, 2013 - 08:28

    I've become *space challenged* in my dotage. But, can you please explain how they fit *close to 10,000* fans in a venue that holds less than 7000? Kudos to the gentleman for what seemed like an excellent performace. I wasn't there. Although in my 60s, I was never a fan of the man's music. Other than the Hallelujah song.

    • Greg
      April 24, 2013 - 16:49

      I'm also in my 60's and enjoy LC immensely. We drove from Maine to see him at Saint John, NB - fabulous! I want more!