Thursday, April 2, 2009

“I didn’t come all the way down here to Austin just to fool ya”

So said Leonard Cohen in the middle of his timeless hit “Hallelujah” tonight at the Long Center. He’s touring the US for the first time in fifteen years, and I’ll tell you, it was worth the wait.

The whole gig lasted close to three hours – with six encores. Six piece band (including Austin-born Roscoe Beck, bassist and musical director of the tour), plus three backing vocals (including Sharon Robinson, Cohen’s composition partner for more than twenty years). It was lively, unpredictable and intense. A concert to remember.

Cohen’s voice sounds exactly like his records. Being a huge fan for a couple of years now, my first thought when I heard him thanking the audience and coming up with playful banter in between songs was “it speaks, too!” If you watch the Live in London DVD that was released just now, on March 31st, rest assured that that is the sound you hear live. No tricks.

Other than “Hallelujah,” the highlights of the show were “Who By Fire” and “The Partisan,” with much more complex and lively instrumentation than the studio versions; “Democracy,” fleshed out with verve and enthusiasm into a live anthem; and “First We Take Manhattan,” which prompted everyone to clap along and yell as Cohen adlibbed his famous chorus into a playful “then we take Beijing.” Two unexpected songs from his early years made their way into the setlist: “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” (this one a little over the top – the six-piece-band treatment overshadowed the intimist melancholy of the song).

Believe the hype. This concert is as good as the press is making it out to be.

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