Hallelujah, here's Leonard Cohen

Cohen still going strong at 79

Last updated 08:45 15/12/2013

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Art and Stage

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Leonard Cohen at CBS Canterbury Arena, Saturday, December 14. Reviewed by Vicki Anderson.

There is a crack in everything, it's how the light gets in.

Magical is a word which was used a lot by those who saw Montreal poet, and gifted member of the tower of song, Leonard Cohen, last night. Around me the audience packed into the arena to see the famous baritone delivered the kind of fervent praise usually reserved for a religious experience.

Religion is something which is not far from the heart of Leonard Cohen. A Buddhist monk as well as observant Jew - there is indefinable spirituality which informs many of his songs.

He has an unwavering power to unfurl like no other, through song, tales of the human condition from love to despair and every emotion in between. Cohen says as much in the silences and spaces in his performance as he does through his articulate word play and extraordinary music.

The smart hat and suit complicate the Zen-like aura a little but throughout, Cohen conducts himself in a calm meditative manner.

Some of his best known songs are written in the tone of a seer, eg First We Take Manhatten which carried the same spooky weight last night as it did when first unveiled last century. Playing for over three hours over two parts and three encores followed three standing ovations, the arena was bathed in a hushed, reverent atmosphere as Cohen delicately delivered Dance Me to the End of Love, Tower of Song, Hallelujah, I'm Your Man and more.

For me Chelsea Hotel #2 and 1000 Kisses Deep were dynamite.

Cohen skipped on and off stage and fell to his knees often during the performance.

For all who attended last night, the kind of respect usually reserved for a Dylan or a Brian Wilson was afforded. He received a standing ovation walking on stage and three standing ovations before Closing Time.

Cohen is a master at weaving emotion subtly and the atmosphere was never overly maudlin, rather the sadness was inspiring and the audience laughed often at his well-timed lines and clever poetic teasers.

Aged 79, his deep baritone wavered only a little over his three-hour set and any blemishes were hidden by the outstanding band and wonderful trio of backing vocalists which included the incredible Webb sisters alongside Cihen's collaborator, Sharon Robinson, who did a mighty rendition of Alexandra Leaving. 

The self-deprecation of  a song from the album Old Ideas, called On The Darkness: ''I know my days are few. I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got that too'' was particularly poignant.

Cohen said he was "blessed my friends'' but really his musical generosity made the audience truly blessed.

The godfather of cool, Cohen is one of a kind.

COHEN SHOWS NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN

At 79, Leonard Cohen shows no sign of slowing down, last night starting the third leg of a world tour that began in August 2012.

After the release of Old Ideas, which was only his 12th studio album in 46 years but his highest-charting, Cohen has toured both Europe and North America twice, before heading Down Under.

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The Canadian, who turned to singing after becoming frustrated with his life as a novelist and poet, opened the New Zealand tour with his nine-piece band at the CBS Canterbury Arena in Christchurch last night.

Cohen is ranked alongside Bob Dylan and Paul Simon as the greatest singer- songwriters of the past 50 years. Lou Reed, who died in October, described him as part of the "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters".

Cohen will play at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena on Tuesday and Auckland's Vector Arena on Saturday.

- Sunday Star Times

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