Monday, April 13, 2009

Nothing on My Tongue But Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen is a man of contradictions--big time Buddhist, yet in his "I'm Your Man" pose he's the Canadian Jewish guy's answer to Muddy Waters (so much for renouncing need). His venerable baritone, aged and cigarette-smoked into something deeply delicious, is generally balanced by what he appropriately calls his angels--sweet-singing female back-ups (in the case of this current tour, Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb). He might seem a relic of the 1960s--beyond Judy Collins making him famous by covering his "Suzanne," check out his album covers where he even looks like a brother to Graduate-era Dustin Hoffman--but his prophetic mode, most evinced on 1992's The Future, now nearly two-decades on seems like history (let's hope democracy is coming, someday, to the USA). Or as he so cleverly put it Friday night at the Nokia Theater in LA, "I turned to a rigorous and profound study of the religions and the philosophies but, uh, cheerfulness kept breaking through."

Cheerfulness is far too small a word for what it was like to be at the show, part of Cohen's first tour in 15 years, which means something, as his last tour was when he was 60. It doesn't hurt that he's always been an old man for rock 'n' roll--more of a folk-singer with jazz leanings, or a poet hoping to talk-sing his way into our hearts, or at least our heads, and if you're part of the female our, beds. The nine-piece band (counting the three women vocalists) rounded out his sound with just the right amount of oomph--for as good as his lyrics are, he can write some clever, simple tunes, too. So while people are quick to pick up on the cabaret-influence on "Dance Me to the End of Love" (as Madeleine Peyroux did covering it), there's the gospel haunting "If It Be Your Will," the country lope to "Closing Time," and what I like to think of as white man's bogey soul (AKA last three album Roxy Music--you can only swing so much with Andy Newmark as your drummer) in numerous tunes like "Ain't No Cure for Love." Standouts in the band included Neil Larsen on the B-3 Hammond, especially on a showy "Hallelujah" solo, and Javier Mas on Spanish guitar, giving the songs a wonderful exotic pull. I could have done a with a bit less of Dino Soldo--Cohen called him the "maestro of wind" (I thought that was our dog Nigel)--who was a bit too David Sanborn-again for my tastes.

But the show is about Cohen, who was our man for over 3 hours. What a catalog he has to draw on: he even offered up "Chelsea Hotel" and "Famous Blue Raincoat," both notably absent from the recent double CD release Live in London that pretty much captures the show if you couldn't make it. Even the patter is almost the same, which might suggest a certain inflexibility, but I like to think of it as a Buddhist exercise, an attempt to make each omm mean as much or more as the last. He certainly never seemed to coast, often beginning a song crouched down, rising up into it as it built and grew. Cohen also liked to focus on the musician most in conversation with him at any point, a kind of on stage seduction that seemed to draw even more out of his talented crew.

He is sort of a religious figure, after all, and not just because he's worshipped by generations, now, from feeling '60s sisters to '80s Nick Cave-loving punks to '00s bohos who think the old cool cat cuts a fine figure in his fedora. It's that he embodies our world so well, sensing exactly why we need to be depressed (his songs have been dropping class warfare critiques for decades before Geithner gave our moolah away) and therefore exactly why we need to sing. It's always closing time, and if the gates of love budge an inch, that's something, isn't it.

Sure enough it will end as he put it:

But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone
I'll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the tower of song

Here's "Democracy" from the Live in London DVD, to give you a bit of the flavor of the fine evening:

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8 Comments:

Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Nice way to start the day... thanks!

WV: fiestio (cheerios with tequila?)

9:39 AM  
Blogger regina said...

Brilliant review for a brilliant performer. A three hour performance? THAT'S impressive.

Thanks for the link to the album cover. I immediately set that hotness as my desktop background. :)

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Freealonzo said...

Nice review, I was debating whether or not to try to pick up a ticket off the street when LC comes to the City of Lakes now I'm pretty convinced I will.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Great review, almost like I was there.

11:08 AM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks, folks.

Patrick, you weren't there, but Cohen's fellow Buddhist Richard Gere was.

11:18 AM  
Blogger E-6 said...

Nicely done, George.

(Have you ever heard Fairport Convention's version of "Suzanne"? Bloody brilliant.)

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

According to the recent three panel group bio of LA singer-songwriters (King/Mitchell/Simon), Joni wrote A Case Of You about Leonard. When you're that kind of muse, you've got it going on.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your fabulous review. We caught up with Leonard at his Saturday night show, from lucky 11th row center. I have been on an irrevocable high all week long . . .

1:58 PM  

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