- June 7, 2008 (Photo: The Canadian Press/Aaron Harris)
TORONTO — After a series of "rehearsal shows'' in eastern and central Canada, legendary singer and poet Leonard Cohen officially kicked off his world tour Friday with a three-hour performance in front of a rapt Toronto audience that had waited nearly 15 years for his return.
The reclusive artist, who shied away from the limelight and was ordained a Buddhist monk during his retreat from fame, took the stage in a dark suit and fedora, grinning broadly as he was greeted by waves of applause from roughly 3,200 fans who filled the Sony Centre.
His voice robust and strong, the 73-year-old icon opened with a brief offer of thanks before launching into his 1984 serenade, "Dance Me To The End Of Love,'' clutching a mic with two hands and filling it with his rich baritone.
"Thank you, dear friends; it's been a long time since I've been back on a stage,'' Cohen said later as audience members yelled back: "Too long!''
He noted that he was a much younger man when he last mounted a tour, eliciting laughs from the audience, many of them greying themselves.
"I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream,'' quipped Cohen, who now lives in Los Angeles.
Although the Toronto show is being dubbed Cohen's official return to the stage, the Montreal-native has been performing since May, warming up his vocals at smaller venues throughout Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
After three more shows in Toronto he heads to Ireland, Britain and Europe to complete a three-month world tour that will have him perform 42 soldout shows in 14 countries.
Cohen's much-publicized financial problems are said to be behind his return to the concert circuit. Years ago, his longtime former manager was ordered by a court to restore millions of dollars that had been pilfered from his retirement fund, but Cohen has yet to collect the cash.
Throughout his comeback Friday, Cohen appeared to relish his return to the spotlight, at times leaning forward to get a better glimpse at the audience or various members of his nine-piece band as they ran through his vast catalogue of classic songs.
"Suzanne,'' "Ain't No Cure For Love,'' "Bird On The Wire,'' "First We Take Manhattan'' -- the favourites were all there, with little variation in the setlist from previous shows held out east.
In all, Cohen played two eight-song sets followed by repeated encores that brought the audience to its feet.
The biggest cheers came for a full-voiced delivery of "Hallelujah,'' and a lively version of "Closing Time'' that had the crowd clapping along to the rollicking chorus.
His frame looking slender and slightly stooped, Cohen limited his movements to some hip-swaying and toe-tapping, occassionally shuffling towards musicians that spanned the stage but never straying far from centre.
Other appearances in Canada include three shows later this month in Montreal, where Cohen will be honoured with a tribute at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Cohen fan Wayne Mills said he'd waited 40 years to see the man perform live.
"He's got charisma, and his music is beautiful because it's poetry,'' marvelled Mills, 62.
For over 2 1/2 hours on Friday night at the Sony Centre, Leonard Cohen was our man.
Charming, funny, poignant, smart, sharp and sexy, - yes at 73-year-old decked out in a grey fedora, grey shirt and black double-breasted suit he is still a lady killer - the Montreal poet-singer-songwriter easily seduced a sold-out crowd during the first of four back-to-back shows at the venue which wrap up on Monday night (some tickets are still available).
And that was no easy feat given he is touring for the first time in 15 years - “I was a 60-year-old kid with a crazy dream,” he quipped early on of the last time he was on the road.
Friday night’s show was previously billed as the kick off of his world tour, but in reality Cohen and his nine-piece band of master musicians and singers have been touring small venues in Atlantic Canada since the middle of May.
He opened on Friday night with his classic Dance Me To The End Of Love, and the songwriter’s songwriter - recently inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year by Lou Reed - kept the gems from his lengthy repertoire coming - The Future, In My Secret Life, There Ain’t No Cure For Love.
While never a great singer, his deep, rumbling voice has only improved with age, in terms of his recital of words - a poetry reading of A Thousand Kisses Deep towards the end of the show was so powerful you wanted to weep openly. (Well, maybe if you were a girl.)
And the standouts of the night possessed genuine passion and flair - Bird On A Wire, Everybody Knows, Who By Fire, Tower of Song - which featured Cohen playing keyboards in such an elemental fashion that he joked, “You’re very kind,” after the audience applauded - Hallelujah (which prompted a standing ovation), Suzanne, Democracy, I’m Your Man, Take This Waltz, Waiting For The Miracle, First We Take Manhattan, That Don’t Make It Junk and Closing Time.
As for his backup singers, the lovely Sharon Robinson and sisters Charley and Hattie Webb, provided a warm bedrock onto which Cohen’s placed his low, sexy register and the innocent flirtation between him and the trio of women was fun to watch. For example, as Tower Of Song was winding down, Cohen begged the three singers to keep singing. “Don’t stop. Don’t stop. That’s what I want to hear. That’s all I want to hear,” he said.
Often he sang directly to them and made Robinson his duet partner on Boogie Street, or let the Webb sisters take over completely and beautifully on If It Be Your Will.
He was also gracious to his band, taking off his fedora whenever someone performer a solo and introducing them to the audience numerous times.
Special mention should be made of Javier Mas on bandurria, laud, archilaud and 12 string guitar, and Rafael Gayol on drums and percussion, both of who excelled in their playing and respective solos.
If this is, in fact, Cohen’s swansong in terms of being a live performer, there are much worse ways he could go out.
But I’m here to say he still has a lot of life left in him.
It's a humbling thing, being in the presence of true greatness, especially when you get the gnawing sense that this is the last time you'll share an audience with it.
Leonard Cohen hasn't toured in 15 years. At 73, he's as dapper and as handy with a bon mot as he ever was, but there was a slight frailty evident in the legendary poet's suited-and-fedora'd frame as he serenaded a rapt crowd at the Sony Centre for two-and-a-half entrancing hours last night that suggested he can't have too many more world tours in him.
This was a love-in, where standing ovations sprang spontaneously from the floor with some regularity – heck, "Hallelujah" had a few bodies up after the first chorus – and not just because Cohen's admirers can't be sure when he's likely to emerge again from the ascetic California Buddhist retreat where he's been living in recent years. No, this was a love-in because the man is the real deal, a songwriter who's contributed so much ageless, gorgeous verse to the English language that he makes one wonder why anyone else even bothers.
Flanked by a nine-piece band that brought a flawless, finely nuanced backdrop of groove – what you get when you employ a bass player like Roscoe Beck as your musical director – to two full sets of career-spanning favourites, Cohen politely doffed his hat and folded himself into the band to allow generous solo spots for his accompanists at regular intervals and gave a prominent role throughout to the angelic backup vocal trio of his sometime co-writer Sharon Robinson and sisters Charlie and Hatty Webb.
Cohen's own signature, tectonic baritone was in tip-top shape last night from the opening lines of "Dance Me to the End of Love" to the jubilant version of "Closing Time" that brought a lengthy encore to climax. At times, it sounded a little more weathered than we might have remembered it, but that only brought extra nihilist gravitas to "The Future" and "Everybody Knows," and only made the blues of "Bird on a Wire" and the weary bossa nova questing of "Tower of Song" that much more resonant. The infamous ladykiller could still have had his pick of any of the women in the room after the mildly lewd "I'm Your Man" or the heart-stopping version of "Suzanne" he unleashed over his own quiet, acoustic-guitar accompaniment during the second half of the show.
It was his words, Cohen's wonderful, romantic, breathtakingly perfect words, though, that were the true stars of the evening.
Indeed, the highlight of the night might have been when the music all but stopped and he intoned the spoken-word meditation on aging and mortality "A Thousand Kisses Deep" with all the weight of a man who's staring both in the face.
To hear Leonard Cohen tell it, "My friends are gone and my hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play." But you wouldn't have known it on Friday night in Toronto, as Cohen launched his world tour with an extraordinary performance for a jubilant audience at the Sony Centre.
The concert marked the official beginning of Cohen's first tour in over a decade, after several weeks spent warming up at smaller venues across Canada. Following his four nights in Toronto, the poet-singer moves to Ireland and the U.K. before returning to his hometown of Montreal on June 24.
Backed by a six-piece band and three female singers (including longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson), Cohen took to the stage in a dapper double-breasted suit and grey fedora to a rapturous reception before launching into his 1984 classic Dance Me to the End of Love.
Cohen delivered his classic oeuvre over the course of the performance, deploying an effortless energy and charisma that drew a succession of standing ovations from the crowd of about 3,200. His band was like a well-oiled machine, tactful and restrained, letting Cohen's gravelly baritone resonate throughout the hall. Particular highlights of the evening included Bird on a Wire, First We Take Manhattan, Hallelujah, a rousing Closing Time and a devastating recitation of A Thousand Kisses Deep. The performance seemed to have the crowd mesmerized; for all of Cohen's wordplay and expressive beauty, the emotions he draws forth onstage are surprisingly elemental: love, inadequacy, fragility, even righteousness (as during his critique of the U.S. -- he called it a "love letter" -- Democracy).
It is true that the sometime-Buddhist monk may have lost a step or two -- though perhaps he has gained a new one, judging by his old-man shuffle dance. But true to character, he made light of his advancing age with what is becoming a frequent quip on this tour: during his last time out in the 1990s, he said, he was just a "60-year-old kid with a crazy dream." And despite Cohen's protestations, he appeared to gain energy as the night wore on; by the first encore the 73-year-old was practically jumping a jig.
Certainly, many of Cohen's lyrics took on additional poignancy, and sometimes new meaning, given the singer's age (for example, Anthem's "Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering"). But as often as not the result was light-hearted humour, and the audience was eager to laugh at Cohen's every self-deprecating remark.
Indeed, there was something almost hagiographic about the whole affair -- the mood in the hall was adulatory, the assemblage the kind of broad demographic that normally comes together only for a visit by the pope. But, of course, this is the sort of major cultural event that doesn't happen very often around these parts. If you're one of those who remortgaged the house to buy tickets for one of Cohen's Toronto or Montreal dates, you will be amply rewarded. This show is one for the ages.
It may have been a humid 27 degrees outside on Front Street, but it was the epitome of cool onstage at the Sony Centre in Toronto Friday night. There stood Leonard Cohen, impeccable in his black, double-breasted suit and grey fedora (with a matching shirt), looking as if no amount of exertion could cause him to perspire.
But it wasn't just the elegance of his appearance, or the absolute calm he exuded as he took control of the stage. Cohen's cool was bone deep - the unruffled assurance that comes with knowing that, at 73, he can still command a rock star's welcome. Even before he sang a note, he had the capacity crowd cheering, as if merely being in his presence were cause for an ovation.
For someone who never cracked the Top 40 or had a video in heavy rotation on Much Music or MTV, that's some kind of star power. Yet Cohen, cool cat that he is, declined to bask in the audience's adoration. Instead, he thanked them modestly, and then got on with the business of animating one of the most resonant, lyrically brilliant songbooks in popular music.
Cohen may not have hits, but he definitely has classics, and every time he touched on one, the audience went a bit nuts. They didn't just roar for the obvious favourites, such as Suzanne or Bird on the Wire or I'm Your Man; they also cheered beloved lyrics from such lesser-known songs as Anthem and Democracy.
And when Cohen offered his Hallelujah, they sent up a hosanna that would have done a convention of Baptists proud.
Some of that doubtless stems from the fact that Cohen, after decades of being respected but ignored, suddenly became hot property. In the last five years, he's been inducted into the Order of Canada, the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now that he's on tour, for the first time in almost 15 years, audiences are understandably eager to catch a glimpse of a genuine Canadian icon.
But there was no resting on laurels or coasting on reputation at the Sony Centre. Cohen didn't just present the songs that made him famous - he brought them to life, animating his well-turned verses with wit and passion and presence. He was charming, flirtatious, seductive. He was, in short, everything a rock star is supposed to be, except 50 years older.
Even that, though, was part of his shtick. "It has been a long time since last I stood up here on a stage," he said at one point. "Fourteen or 15 years. I was 60 years old - just a kid with a crazy dream."
Cohen joked a lot during the show, from the self-deprecating steps illustrating "a white man dancing" during the otherwise dystopian tune, The Future, to choosing I Tried to Leave You as a final encore, but there was no fooling around when it came to the music. His nine-piece backing band was unassumingly virtuosic, with an arsenal that ranged from pedal steel and Hammond B3 organ to archilaud (a type of Spanish lute) and bass clarinet, while the arrangements cunningly underscored the music's harmonic and melodic depth.
Of course, the big question with Cohen is his singing. His was never a great voice, and as he's gotten older, it seems to have grown lower and softer. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of amplification, that wasn't a problem onstage. He still sings softly, but holds the microphone close to his mouth so the PA does the heavy work. There's also a lot of gesture in his presentation, and he often emphasized a passage by standing pigeon-toed, with knees bent and his shoulders collapsed around the mike, as if he were squeezing the notes out of his body like so much toothpaste.
Had it been any other geezer, we might have laughed. But with Cohen, the only reasonable response was to believe, to feel uplifted, and to hope that some day each of us could be as cool as he.
HITS His best-known songs - Hallelujah, Bird on the Wire, Suzanne - may have gotten the most applause, but Cohen was at his most flirtatious and alluring when making jokes about his romantic appeal in I'm Your Man and Tower of Song.
MISSES Okay, so you've got a great band, and you want to showcase everyone in the final number. Fine. But does that really justify putting a drum solo in I Tried to Leave You?
CROWD Cohen wasn't the oldest one in the room, but the largest demographic seemed to be aging alt-rockers who see Cohen as the ultimate in alternative (not to mention an excellent reason not to worry about growing older).
IN A WORD A Canadian classic.
MORE CONCERTS Cohen plays the last of four shows tonight in Toronto. (Tickets available at Ticketmaster.) He also performs in Montreal June 23-25.
After 15 Years, Leonard Cohen Proves He’s Still Got It in Toronto
- June 9, 2008 by Andy Greene (Photo: CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris/AP Images)
Walking into the Sony Centre for Leonard Cohen’s Toronto concert on June 6th people had plenty of reasons to think the show might be a disappointment. The 73-year-old songwriting legend hadn’t performed a single concert in 15 years before this tour kicked off a few weeks back. He’s rarely been seen in public since then, and when he showed up at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction earlier this year he looked pretty meek and refused to perform. Also, it’s quite clear the only reason he agreed to do this tour was the fact his manager stole nearly all his money during his five years Buddhist retreat on Mount Baldy in California and he needed a nest egg for retirement. Yet, like a master bank robber forced out of retirement for one last gigantic score, Cohen poured everything he had into a stunning performance.
Cohen walked onstage with a nine-piece band promptly at 8:00, wearing a dark, double-breasted suit and a fedora — he looked like he just stepped out of the Dick Tracy retirement home. From the first seconds of “Dance Me to the End of Love” it was apparent that his deep baritone hadn’t deteriorated a bit since the 1993 tour. It’s a far cry from the tender voice that sang “Suzanne” 40 years ago, but he’s sounded husky for a while now and it suits his dark material perfectly. The band — featuring an amazing Hammond B3 organist and his longtime back-up singer Sharon Robinson — re-created the spooky atmosphere of his albums down to the smallest detail.
Cohen played a handful of his 1960s/early-1970s classics such as “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire,” but the set list was heavily tilted towards material from the second 20 years of his career. He featured six of the eight songs from 1988’s I’m Your Man, along with five from 1992’s The Future and four from 2000’s Ten New Songs. It was a drag not hearing “Famous Blue Raincoat” or “So Long Marianne,” but the later songs have always sounded better live. A double shot of “Waiting for the Miracle” and “First We Take Manhattan” towards the end of the night were clear highlights and “I’m Your Man” remains one of the horniest songs ever written — though delivered with the class and wit only Cohen can bring.
The biggest applause of the night came in the early part of the second set when he launched into “Hallelujah.” Since his last tour, the 1984 tune has been covered by just about everyone on the planet (including American Idol hopeful Jason Castro) and has become his most famous composition. John Cale, Rufus Wainwright and (of course) Jeff Buckley all managed to eclipse the original, and tonight Cohen sang it like he was trying to reclaim it for himself. The lines “Even thought it all went wrong I stood before the Lord of Song with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah” were belted out with stunning force and conviction. Equally powerful was the title track to The Future, though for some reason “Give me crack, anal sex” has become “Give me crack, careless sex.” “Democracy” took on new meaning during the weekend Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign, and the line “Democracy is coming to the USA” earned huge cheers from the Canadian crowd.
“My friends are gone and my hair is grey,” Cohen sang in “Tower of Song.” He wrote those when he was merely 53, and 20 years later those words are truer than ever. But the Leonard Cohen onstage didn’t seem anything like an old man pining for the past. After two and a half hours, he still returned for the encores with a huge grin on his face. The man may be older than Jerry Lee Lewis and John McCain, but other than the times he sang verses while awkwardly squinting at the ground (presumably at a teleprompter) that was very easy to forget. His touring schedule is brutal (this was night one of a four-consecutive-night stand) and pretty soon he’ll be bouncing around Europe like a madman. When it’s done he’ll probably return to Los Angeles with a dump truck full of money and never perform again. Still, it’s a hell of a way to go out.
Oggi (Rome, Italy) - June 11, 2008 by Massimo Gatto
All standing the other evening at Sony
Centre in Toronto for Leonard
Cohen, who by next Friday
will be on tour in Europe, including Italy
(July 27 at Summer Festival
Lucca and 28 at the Park
Music Rome). A standing
ovation greeted by Canadian singer-songwriter
and his band with a brief
summons chapel Whiter thou
goest the classic Guy Singer with text
taken from the Bible (Ruth 1:16 --
17) led to his time in hit parade
by Les Paul and Mary Ford. The last
bow of an evening of feelings
chansonnier addressed by the Montreal
with grace and passion "because the
poetry is proof of life".
After a few years past in the frame
the monastic Mount Baldy Zen
Center of Los Angeles where pondered
with his roshi, today cantatutore-poet
is a double in settantatreenne
that hides its ancestral shyness
under a hat to Dick
Tracy while approval in the Dance me to
the end of love seekers' violin ardent
'To let lead to beauty
or Bird on a wire says it wants
seek freedom as the knight-errant
came from an old book. In
scene his songs lose shine
Various' static who in discs
thanks to choirs insinuanti Sharon
Robinson and Webb Sisters and
grace to a band employed
the bassist Roscoe Beck who in
bandurria of Spanish polistrumentista
Javier Mas its most evocative sounds
Just listen to the delicate introduction
of The gypsy's wife or gl'interventi
of Mas in Who by fire to seize
the sense of a spectacle that
combines music and poetry in
formidable, avoiding certain passages
the songbook of Cohen a little 'too
discounted to focus primarily
production of horse
nineties, the one poised between two
monoliths of his career which I'm
The man and your future. Thus
Who by fire that slides in that Athemo
Tower of song leading into eternal
Suzannein whose sacred and the profane mix
in memory of the dancer
Suzanne Verdal wrapped dall'estasi mystical
the Chapelle de Bensecours,
small church seamen in Monteal.
The public of the Sony Center whispers
as a "Va pensiero", while
Cohen with the guitar strap to the
its tone is de rugginosi and enveloping.
It is one of the high points
of the show, together with the splendor
Hallelujah of Central and all'ironia
Take this to Waltz.
Fifteen years ago, when I went to
tour for the last time, was "a boy
with some ideas a little 'mad
'As explained by thanking the public
conviviality. It does not take
more pause for reflection both
long "because the distance is not
a remedy and why so much for love
there is no cure. Meanwhile his house
accompanies this record
new round of concerts giving
prints June 27 The collectionun
box with the five most popular albums
by the show, ie Songs
of Leonard Cohen of'68 at Recent
songs of'79, I'm your mandell'88
The future of a'92 to Ten new songs
Blog - A Long Yarn... - "How Leonard Cohen Changed My Life " Magic happens, you know. The concert was three hours of it. The air sparkled with energy, camaraderie, beautiful tones. I haven't felt so present in years...
Blog - MuchMusic.com - "Hannah: Leonard Cohen, The Legend" He is now officially on his world tour. If he is passing through your city, or in a city near you, find a way to see him perform. I promise it will change you...
Blog - ParisLovesJazz - "Leonard Cohen World Tour..." (includes photos, youtube) he could have walked out and coasted on his hits and just walked through the evening, but he made it extraordinary...
Blog - Ken’s Blog - "Leonard Cohen II" The love from the audience that flows to this man in continual waves is unlike the mere adulation one sees at other music concerts. This audience knows each of these songs inside out, from decades of intense listening and reflection. With the very first chord of each intro comes a collective cry of pleasure...
Live Journal - leonardcohen - anyolite (includes photo and youtubes) Every once in a very long while, life kindly bestows upon us rare experiences that no language can describe, where all superlatives fail miserably, because none of them is capable of adequately expressing the ultimate happiness and elation these experiences bring on. Leonard Cohen’s concert last night at the Sony Centre for the Arts was one such breathtaking experience...
Blog - All My Little Words... - "Leonard Cohen" Watching Leonard Cohen perform live is one of those experiences that assure you that, for those two and half hours, you are indeed in the right time and place. All is well with the universe...
Blog - LAVA - "Leonard Cohen" The vibe was incredibly positive and energetic. It's been a long time since I've felt that much energy at a concert. Every person in the audience, was there to stand in awe of a great poet, singer, songwriter, human being...
Blog - A Wandering Mind - "Leonard Cohen - June 8th in Toronto - A Night of Intense Prayer" I remember being 8 and 9 years old (that was over 30 years ago now), listening to Cohen albums on my turntable and losing myself in his language–in his words. I was able to do that last night while he performed his 3rd Toronto sell-out performance. I was lost in his golden voice, in the music, in the applause and prayers of the audience. It is a concert I will never forget. Thank you, Leonard.
'...That there were gasps aplenty the other night when Joni Mitchell was spotted — during the intermission of a Leonard Cohen concert!
The very portrait of Canadiana glamour it was when Ms. Big Yellow Taxi was out in Toronto on Monday night for a certain Beautiful Loser’s fourth and final concert at the Sony Centre.
“She came out of the back,” an onlooker tells us, adding that there was, at the point, some spontaneous applause and the clucks-clucks of camera-phones...' - The Scene - Shinan Govani - National Post - June 10, 2008