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Leonard Cohen
Live In London Mick Middles , April 14th, 2009 09:06

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Unworldy, spiritual, warming, assuredly human. There must be few events on earth quite like a Leonard Cohen show and within the pantheon of rock, I suggest, absolutely nothing is hovering nearby. Cohen is a unique, beautiful captivating spirit and, even if the peppering of shows in the UK last year were assembled to arrest his apparently shakey fiscal situation...well, so be it. At Glastonbury he shone like a beacon amid the mud of lesser artists. In London and Manchester, where I caught his last show on British soil, he performed with a shockingly cheerful manner, skipping across the stage, flirting openly with his backing singers, the extraordinary Webb sisters, and playing jovially with the inglorious nature of the ageing process. The central song in all this was the still magnificent 'Tower of Song', where the lyric lays down the process of his own immortality: "I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift or a golden voice," he intones before a barrage of cheers.

Those cheers are as evident on this DVD and CD from the London shows as they were in Manchester, and , in the same song, Cohen's rather clunky wrestling with the organ inspires a barrage of crowd support. The response he gathers might be seen as evidence of less than spontaneous set planning, complete with standardised jokes and musings... then again it could just be the artist's firm command of his audience. I choose the latter, for there is over two hours of instantly recognisable music here, and he doesn't even get to touch the morbid growl of his superb Dear Heather album. Such is the almost unprecedented wealth of material.

Every song is a gem. There is no second of filler. What transpires, in the Cohen tradition, is a constant flicker from spiritual profundity to slight teasing. It all perfectly slots together; the dark sexual stirrings of 'I'm Your Man' and 'Aint No Cure For Love to the world weary cynicism of 'Everybody Knows' to blasts of optimism such as 'Anthem' and 'Democracy'. The latter is so weirdly positive it is impossible to listen to without hunting for irony. It's there, of course, as it is in almost every song here. How odd to see a man in his mid seventies ploughing through songs of young lives, such as 'Suzanne', or the darkly Bohemian 'Who by Fire'.

Revisiting these old nuggets is pure joy... and it is pure joy that just flows from this performance. All the better, I suggest, when isn't surrounded by beige clad silver haired people passing Jelly Babies around (as I was, in Manchester... ruined 'Sisters of Mercy', it did).

The musicality is ancient school, and refreshingly so, with a Greek influence flavouring almost every song – courtesy of Javier Mas – while the Webb's add dutiful 'doo dum dums' and succeed in stretching both depth and poignancy. The third backing singer, Sharon Robinson, was Cohen's co-writer of the excellent 'My Secret Life' and she is given her own spot with 'Boogie Street', which tugs the set towards a gritty urbanism.

Amid all this, one hardly notices 'Hallelujah', ironically one of the least affecting songs on this set. Perhaps that's the final, irony... a song gifted to a bland idiom. Let it go, Leonard, for there are brighter diamonds in every corner. Perhaps most surprising of all is the contemporary relevance of all this. Some of this material is years old, and yet still they arrest the modern age with pinpoint accuracy: "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

Listen to Leonard Cohen - Live In London on Spotify

Ross McConnell
Apr 15, 2009 12:55am

Sounds like the same set he's done everywhere. I saw him in Brisbane and it was identical to this, but you;re right - it doesn't detract from how good he was.

Not sure why you'd need to 'hunt for irony' in a song with the lyric "Democracy is coming to the U.S.A", but that aside, good review!

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