Leonard Cohen In Vancouver on Thursday at Rogers Arena
It's a fact of life that high expectations can lead to disappointment, but for Leonard Cohen fans in Vancouver on Thursday night, they did not. Neither age nor an epic tour - now, finally, nearing its end - seem to have taken their toll on the 76-year-old Montreal-born poet/singer-songwriter/legend.
Maybe it's all that enlightenment.
Cohen bounded onto the stage at Rogers Arena shortly after 8 p.m. to an immediate standing ovation (see: legend, above), tipped his hat to the, um, seasoned audience, and launched into Dance Me To The End of Love. Three-and-a-half hours later (including a 25-minute intermission, but still), he wrapped things up with Closing Time.
"I don't know when we'll pass this way again," he said during the first set, "but I promise you that tonight we'll give you everything we got."
In his trademark fedora, dark suit and bolo tie, Cohen offered his lyrical take on the facts of life: holy doves moving, events at the Chelsea Hotel on an unmade bed. Often on his knees, eyes closed, hand held up to his face, Cohen filled the arena with gravelly strains of aural sex. If he ached in the places where he used to play, he had the audience fooled.
He's been touring for more than 2½ years now and much of the set - even some of the stage banter - may be familiar to anyone who has caught an earlier show (he played Vancouver last year), has been surfing YouTube, or has heard his Live in London album.
But never did Cohen appear to be mailing it in. The guy put the "pro" in "profound," performing songs he has sung hundreds - thousands - of times with a vigour so genuine that they never felt tired. So that, even though the audience knew what was coming, they couldn't help but laugh at lines such as: "You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception." Or cheer when he crooned "I was born with the gift of a golden voice."
That baritone of his still stirs, but it also cracks (we've always forgiven him his rough voice for his velvety poetry). And the credit for much of the night's musical magic has to go to Cohen's impeccable band (Javier Mas performed an extended and extraordinary 12-string acoustic solo leading into Who By Fire, his shadow huge against the curtained backdrop) and excellent back-up singers: Sharon Robinson, who co-wrote Everybody Knows and My Secret Life, among others, and sisters Charley and Hattie Webb. Cohen repeatedly acknowledged their work with a tip of his fedora.
He also tipped his hat to Canada - "my home and native land," he called it - recounting a long-ago review from London. "One of the reviewers said 'Leonard Cohen is a boring old drone and should go ... back to Canada where he belongs.' That's okay. I am a boring old drone. But is Canada the home of all boring old drones?" he asked before invoking names of other Canadian legends, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot. "Are they boring old drones?"
In his 70s, Cohen is still pondering the mysteries with lyrics that awe. In The Darkness, not yet recorded (he's going into the studio in the new year), he sings: "I caught the darkness from your little cup. I said is this contagious? You said just drink it up." And when he hit the line "I've got no future; I know my days are few," it was hard not to notice how ghostly he looked in the harsh lighting on the big screen.
We tend to think of Cohen as ageless - 76 and still dancing through 3-hour concerts - but of course he's not. Will he pass through this way again? It's hard to know. So the show - steeped in nostalgia, yet still very much alive - was kind of like one last night with an old flame, knowing you might never meet again. He kept calling the audience "friends," but it felt like more than that. On Thursday night, he was our man.
Cohen's tour wraps up in Las Vegas with two shows Dec. 10 and 11.