Review: Leonard Cohen in Wellington

Last updated 10:29 18/12/2013

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Leonard Cohen, Wellington, TSB Bank Arena
December 17

Never has depression been more enjoyable than when watching Leonard Cohen perform.

The grandmaster of melancholy entertained Wellington's audiences with humour, excellent arrangements of the highlights of his 12 albums and a voice that hasn't lost an iota of its growling deepness.

The 79-year-old, who performed for the third time in four years in Wellington, received standing ovations even before he started his 3 1/2-hour show, divided into two sets with three encores to boot.

He thanked the audience in the packed TSB Arena for "climbing to the high place at the back", and, addressing the occupants of the front rows, for "endangering the family budget for acquiring the seats".

His sound technicians did an excellent job with the at times challenging acoustics of the arena, making sure the audience could hear "every single depressing nuance" of Cohen's 26-song set.

The stage was set up with big drapes, and, most importantly, big oriental carpets. Not only did they provide a cosy backdrop for Cohen and his nine musicians, but they were also an important prop, considering that the singer spent a lot of time performing on his knees.

There are no words to be lost on his excellent songwriting and his devoted audience would surely have been happy with whatever the maestro delivered.

But the arrangements with these outstanding musicians, who made many of his mid-period songs more klezmer than disco, made the night even more special.

All fears that Cohen's timbre, his growl, his deep and unique voice would have cracked with age were baseless.
The Canadian poet proved to be in great shape. Occasionally some high notes were a tad pitchy, but, really, who cares.

The whole show was clearly a well-oiled machine, with everybody knowing exactly when and where to move, and the wonderful backup singers, Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters, moved mesmerisingly like seaweed in the current.

Cohen did not hog the limelight, but also put the spotlight on his musicians, and let them shine in their solos.

Outstanding were Javier Mas who mastered a whole range of string instruments like the guitar, 12-string bandurria and laud and Alexandru Bublitchi on the violin.

Yes, Cohen has been on the road with this show for quite a while. It might not have been much different from his previous shows (to which I haven't been), but, heck, he managed to connect with the audience, making everybody feel this was a special night.

Cohen is an entertainer, a 79-year-old whose lusty lyrics still ring right, a poet whose recitations of his lyrics still feel like coming from the heart and who has a spring in his step and a winking eye that make watching him an honour.

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