Nokia Theater - April 11, 2009
Live Review by Adam McKibbin
Forget Animal Collective; 2009 belongs to Leonard Cohen. The legendary songwriter has been making a triumphant sweep across the world, playing music’s most storied halls and desert polo fields. The recently released Live in London will surely linger as one of the year’s most vital live albums. Of course, Leonard left us a long time ago, giving himself over to a life of spiritual study and retreat from the public eye. We heard from him occasionally, as the albums slowed but didn’t stop. Still, the prospect of nights like these seemed far-fetched. Even sitting in the audience at the still-gleaming new Nokia, it was a pinch-me sort of show. Was this really happening?
For those who’d spent the weeks prior to his L.A. dates soaking up Live in London, there was an additional surreal layer, as it became clear that the evening was largely going to be a recreation of the set captured there, right down to the droll and hilarious stage banter (at one point, in both CD and at this show, Cohen muses about his last time on this stage, which came when the 74-year-old was a mere 60 – just a “crazy kid with a dream.” But that’s hardly room for complaint, not when dealing with a setlist as impeccable as this one (OK, one gripe: the absence of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”), not when dealing with a writer who brings some truth to the title “wordsmith,” treating language as a raw material to be wrangled and made beautiful.
He may not have planned to join us again on these stages, but however much Cohen may begrudge the ex-manager/ex-lover who stole millions from him and forced him to reclaim a nest egg, he betrayed none of it on stage. Maybe he’s actually so Zen that it’s not there at all. Gracious from beginning to end, he saluted the audience repeatedly and seldom missed an opportunity to share the spotlight with his band. That band included multi-instrumentalist Javier Mas, longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson (who took the lead on “Boogie Street,” one of the few lulls) and young British folk duo The Webb Sisters (who took the lead for an excellent “If It Be Your Will”). The latter will surely be seeing a career bump after playing in front of rapt audience after rapt audience; their solo turn reminded that part of Cohen’s legacy will be how his words and works have been given life by others (or perhaps breathed life into others) – from Antony’s “If It Be Your Will” to, of course, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and many other corners of Cobain’s “Leonard Cohen afterworld.”
Tonight, though, was a celebration of the creator. With an intermission, it lasted nearly three and a half joyful hours, and left with a spry old master literally skipping off stage, still paying his rent in the tower of song.