(Editor’s note: Here are dispatches from two of our writers, who both attended Leonard Cohen‘s recent shows at the Paramount on March 2nd and March 3rd.)
It is hard to fathom the genius and stamina of Leonard Cohen. At the 90 minute mark, when most performers would be long gone, Leonard calmly mentions that he will be right back after a short break. At 78 years old, the man put on a show well over three hours. He played a great swath of the songbook covering quite a few of his umpteen lovers: “So Long, Marianne” and “Suzanne” from the first record (1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen), “Bird on the Wire” from ’69’s Songs from a Room, “Who By Fire” from ’74’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony, his most covered song “Hallelujah” from ’84’s Various Positions and a whole a bunch from ’88’s I’m Your Man.
Although he mostly sang, often on his knees, he did play his perfect cheesy keyboard on one song, and guitar on a few others. The highlight, however, was his recitation of “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from 2001’s Ten New Songs. To hear the words un-corrupted by music made it clear that Leonard is a poet first and always.
For the uninitiated, check out the recently released video of a live performance from the infamous Isle of Wight show in 1970. Truly incredible stuff.
For the serious fan, check out the great new biography “I’m Your Man” from SF based music writer Sylvie Simmons.
For the obsessed, seek out Greg Ashley’s recent version of Death of a Ladies Man. Available now on Oakland’s new Slop Bop Records!
For the SXSW bound, check out Sylvie Simmons and Greg Ashley together! Sylvie will be singing and playing Leonard Cohen songs on ukelele, Greg will play guitar (and hopefully sing as well).
From Roman Gokhman:
At the beginning of his show at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on March 3, the second of two sold-out nights, legendary septuagenarian crooner Leonard Cohen offered no promises of the distant future.
“I don’t know when we’ll meet again, but tonight we’ll give you everything we’ve got,” Cohen said.
Someone who’s never seen him perform before might take that with a grain of salt. How much can a 78-year-old give at an 8 p.m. show, with no opener? The casual fan may assume that he or she would be in bed by 10 p.m.
But two full sets and three encores later, Cohen was still going. A full 30 songs into his lengthy songbook, at 11:30 p.m., he showed few signs the night was almost over. The man played longer than Springsteen, and the barrage of songs spanning decades didn’t cease.
From opener “Dance Me to the End of Love” to “Anthem,” “Tower of Song,” “I’m Your Man,” and the immortal “Hallelujah,” which was dropped toward the end of the second set but nowhere near the end of the show itself, Cohen showed remarkable skill and durability.
Throughout the performance, Cohen cracked jokes about reminding himself not to pout when he was having a day that matched his age, or about his skills on the keyboard. When he got a standing ovation for some tinkered notes on “Tower of Song,” he stopped and joked, “Are you putting me on? I guess that’s all you think I can do.” He then proceeded to play with his elbows. A couple songs, such as “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” he performed as poetry, with nothing other than his deep timbre-y voice.
His band, which included a violinist, flamenco guitarist and three back-up singers, seamlessly transitioned between several genres, including lounge, pop, Latin and jazz. The entire performance, from the drum fills to Cohen’s words, was an exercise in restraint, with the right amount of quiet to give the sound meaning.