Review by: Tyler Curtis with Shawn Kellner
Photos by: Tyler Curtis

There are men, and there are legends. The latter are more susceptible to scrutiny under the microscope of history and musical relevance- but when you’re 78 and your body of work brings in a sold out crowd ranging from teenagers to octogenarians, and is touted by greats like Lou Reed and Dylan as some of the most important songwriting in history, its impossible to deny that Leonard Cohen is one of the greatest living legends in music. He is as mysterious as he is transparent, as dark as he is light-hearted. And he is on a mission to deliver his messages.

Cohen’s latest endeavor “Old Ideas” (his 12th studio album in 44 years) paints a picture of an aged man facing his life decisions and impending mortality. However morose the subject matter in any of his life’s work, (which deals with sex, love, philosophy, and everything else that drives us nuts) Mr. Cohen’s brilliant and energized performance last night at The Akoo Theater proved that he has plenty of piss and vinegar left to deliver over his beautiful genre-bending arrangements. If you haven’t looked into Leonard Cohen before, we suggest that you just go listen to his last 12 albums and learn what lyricists, poets and novelists have envied and emulated over the last 50 years.

When Leonard Cohen whimsically perambulated across the stage through his 8 piece band, beaming a wide smile beneath his signature fedora, it was apparent that, despite the undertones of romantic apocalypse and existential ennui that populate his songs, Cohen was ready to have a good time. Opening with the Mediterraneanesque “Dance Me To The End Of Love”, Cohen began his signature bass and baritone croons to a standing ovation (the first of four that night) and ended it on his knees as they flowed into the slow burn of “Bird on the Wire” and ethereal “Everybody Knows”. Guitarists Javier Mas and Mitch Watkins transported the crowd to the spanish countryside with a classical guitar interlude before tackling heavy religious ideas in “Who by Fire”. During the song Cohen removed his fedora and took in the guitar solo and interlude with his eyes closed, his role as prophet and poet made more illustrious by his humble grace.

It wasn’t all serious business though. He garnered roars of laughter with some self depreciating “old man” stabs, both in the songs and in between.  He mused early on “I think I will begin smoking again when I’m 80. I can’t promise you it’ll be perfect then, but tonight, friends, I can promise you that we will give you all we got.” Before  “Ain’t No Cure For Love”, Cohen cheerfully joked “Sometimes I find myself staring into the mirror in the morning and saying ‘Lighten up Cohen, how long are you going to pout that there ain’t no cure for love?’” and later continued on with his longing for his defunct smoking habit “This is the part where 2 years from now, I’ll be smoking a cigarette. A young girl in a nurses uniform will bring out a table and a chair, and I’ll tap out a smoke as this music begins to play.”

And like a grandfather at Thanksgiving declaring what he is grateful for, Cohen introduced every member of his band more than a few times, offering more details about each member as if revealing family secrets. Whether on purpose or as a nervous habit, the gratitude Cohen has for his collaborators is undeniable as well as welcome in today’s landscape of computers and anonymous session players left in the dark behind major stars.

Additional highlights of the evening included: the Canadian Cohen showing some genuine and emotional American pride while declaring “Democracy is coming to the USA!” during “Democracy”, the haunting warmth of the Hammond B3 simmering beneath the always spooky “Waiting for a Miracle”, Cohen standing in the galleys mouthing every word as the Webb sisters sang “If It Be Your Will”, and an effectively soft orchestration of the formerly synthesized  “First We Take Manhattan”. Cohen did a little spoken word of the chorus of “Alexandra Leaving” before giving the reigns to long time collaborator Sharon Robinson for her spine chilling solo rendition of the duet classic. And then there is the matter of the Cohen staple “Hallelujah”- Many artists have paid tribute or tried to surpass the master by covering this song but last night it was clear there is no substitute for the Cohen’s performance as the verses that many covers (including Buckley’s) leave out tied up the poet’s message poignantly.

“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch
I’ve told the truth, Friends, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”

The wizened Cohen is as spry and witty as performers half his age. Throughout the entirety of his 3-hour, 31 song set his only break was a 20 minute intermission  that seems designed more for the audience than for himself. And most performers coming up the ranks should be taking notes: Cohen recites every song perfectly from memory with stunning conviction, without teleprompters or in-ear monitors, proving that when left to the task of sharing your feelings, you should know what your talking about.

Cohen’s voice, both on the page and in the music, is a tour de force. The scientists behind the soundboard delivered one of the crispest and balanced live shows since Peter Gabriel stunned the United Center. His perfectly enunciated delivery and unique showmanship is tireless and inspiring, justifying the fanaticism of his legions. Last night in Rosemont, Leonard Cohen proved that it is not about how long you are in the spotlight, but rather how large of a shadow you project on the world while you’re here.

Setlist:

Set I
The Future
Bird On The Wire
Everybody Knows
Who By Fire
Darkness
Ain’t No Cure For Love
Come Healing
In My Secret Life
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Anthem

Set II
Tower of Song
Suzanne
Sisters of Mercy
Waiting For The Miracle
Anyhow
Heart With No Companion
Democracy
Alexandra Leaving
I’m Your Man
Hallelujah
Take This Waltz

Encore I
So Long Marianne
First We Take Manhattan

Encore II
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
Closing Time

Encore III
I Tried To Leave You
Save The Last Dance For Me (Drifters Cover)