It’s been five years since ‘Field Commander Cohen’ has appeared at the O2, and although the man often referred to as ‘laughing Len’ hasn’t lightened up one bit, his poetic musings on love, sexuality, politics and religion still provide a potent mixture of melody and charisma.
One commentator on Cohen’s work said ‘no one can sing a Leonard Cohen song as he can’t’ and, now the trademark baritone has developed into a smoky growl, often talking rather than singing through songs, you can see what they mean. He delivers his songs with the emotional engagement of one who has lived them. Many people have covered his titles, particularly ‘Hallelujah’, but the originals remain the best.
Backed by the vocal harmonies of his long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, and the Webb Sisters, and a set of peerless musicians on bass, violin, keyboards, etc., the old numbers (the opener ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’, ‘Everybody Knows’, ‘Bird on a Wire’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’, ‘The Future’, ‘Anthem’ (which closed the first half of the show), ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘The Partisan’, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, ‘Tower of Song’ (with the famous and tongue in cheek solo), ‘I’m Your Man’ and of course, ‘Hallelujah’) and newer cuts (‘Anyhow’, ‘Darkness’) continue to shine.
During the recitation of the poem ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ it was purely the poet (or as he puts it himself, ‘a lazy bastard living in a suit’) who was on show. The melodies are just window dressing (albeit excellent window dressing) to the powerful and curious lyrics which have become a trademark of Cohen’s career. In a suit and fedora, often singing on his knees, or with head bowed and eyes closed, this frail old troubadour still displays the skill of making a large arena feel like an intimate lounge bar, and in his 79th year has lost none of his ability to please his fans with a slick three-hour set.
Cohen may be slowing down, just a little, and we ‘may not meet again’, but this was a quality show, in support of his latest album ‘Old Ideas’ (the first in eight years – in a career approaching fifty years, he has only made twelve studio albums). He returns to the O2 for a further date in September.