‘Leonard still has me in his hands’
He was of course preaching to the converted. You don’t come to see Leonard Cohen in a spirit of inquiry... A bulging back catalogue, the tribute of so many big name artists making cover versions of his songs, (not least Hallelujah), and the glory of others singing his praises, mean his concert tickets are coveted nowadays.
It wasn’t always the case. The last time I saw Cohen in live performance was at – yes – Preston’s Guild Hall circa 1979/80.
It most definitely wasn’t a sell-out all those decades ago – but it was a wonderful performance then and also last Saturday in Manchester, even if it’s a mellower, deeper, more sedate Cohen, pacing his music and making every word count.
Leonard opened with a pledge that they would deliver their best and and he and his team gave more than their money’s worth... a three-and-a-half-hour performance, which show-cased not only Cohen classics older and modern, as well as very recent compositions, but also the talents of a line-up of ace musicians and singers – including a commanding performance by Sharon Robinson, a long-time Cohen collaborator who sang a beautiful solo and a duet featuring the haunting voices of The Webb sisters singing “If It Be Your Will.” Guitarist Javier Mas mesmerised as he deftly played a variety of string instruments. (The close up screens at the Arena give an impressive insight into the skills of musicians and provided an equally engaging view of the percussion technique of Rafael Gayol.)
Neil Larsen on keyboards, Mitch Watkins on guitar, Alexandru Bublitchi on his glorious violin and musical director, bassist and backing vocalist Roscoe Beck completed the so talented line-up.
There were no flashy lighting effects or backdrops, just a hard-working team on the road working its way round Europe and focusing on what mattered most – the music.
If Leonard luxuriated in his songs old and new, so too did his audience – some even wiping away tears as Cohen classics were delivered, with minor and humorous timely alterations to the lyrics.
Yes, Cohen is an elderly trouper and troubadour now, but age didn’t stop him doing a silly skip on and off stage at the end of the night – signalling that it would soon be Closing Time.
The audience went home happily sated, leaving with a tune not from the Cohen back catalogue ringing in their ears – but a Tex-Mex version of Drifters’ classic Save The Last Dance For Me.