There was a lot of discussion in the weeks leading up to this show about why it was happening now. None of that seemed to matter when I saw the marquee, pictured above, with the name and dates. It was really Leonard Cohen, live in concert!
I’d listened to the NPR recording a few times; needed to make sure he was still going to sound good at age 74 before I made the effort to go to the show. There’s nothing worse than going to see a legendary act and have that act look and sound awful. It can ruin all the memories. But the NPR recording sounded so good, I came in with high hopes.
It’s possible that there has never been a more perfectly fitting show booked at the Paramount Theater. When Mr. Cohen–what the Paramount crew called him–took the stage in his suit and fedora, he looked like he was stepping out of an older time.
The show ran more than three hours, and it covered all the bases. All the “hits” were there: Dance Me to the End of Love, Who By Fire, Everybody Knows, Suzanne, Hallelujah, I’m Your Man and Chelsea Hotel were my favorites of the night. Yours may have been different. I wasn’t keeping a setlist, but Jim Harrington put one in his Mercury News review.
Other bases covered include some songs that are less than stellar. In fact, the “legendary act” effect took hold of me somewhere after 2 1/2 hours into the nearly 3 1/2 hour show. What’s this effect? When I see a legendary act whose songs I don’t know intimately, I reach a point where I go from awe to indifference. I was surprised to have this happen last night, but I think I can explain what happened.
Because the arrangements of the songs all had a similar feel, there was no momentum to the show in itself. It wasn’t going to sweep anyone away who didn’t already have complete buy in. During our pre-show meeting, the house manager referred to these shows as being “church-like.” And she was completely right. The audience sat silently, clapping at their favorite lines. The only real sign of life happened at the beginning of First We Take Manhattan. For about 15 seconds, everyone was standing and clapping. But then everyone was back to sitting silently. It’s not quite a catchy energy.
These are minor quibbles, really, because the good clearly outweighed the bad. Mr. Cohen’s voice still sounds amazing, and he enunciates so clearly, his brilliant and beautiful lyrics were easily heard, even by the uninitiated. His large band played beautifully, especially Javier Mas on the bandurria. He’s awesome.
So all in all, it was quite an experience. I can’t see myself going to see him again unless he does something like go on tour with a 4-piece punk outfit or something completely different. It was an evening devoid of surprises, and Mr. Cohen forgot one of the key lessons of show business: always leave ’em wanting more.