Leonard Cohen In The O2 by Yan Bourke on 110913_17-banner

Leonard Cohen at the O2, Dublin, Wednesday 11th of September 2013

Much was made in the lead up to Leonard Cohen’s shows in the O2 this week. Everything from his age (79 next week), to his regularity on these shores, to tickets prices were in the spotlight. Nevertheless, on Wednesday night, about 7,500 people paid between €88.50 and €110 (plus whatever additional charges are applicable) for the privilege of seeing him. And what a privilege it proved to be.

Shortly before quarter to eight, Cohen and his band enter, all suited in black with the men all wearing Cohen’s trademark fedora. As they start into Dance Me to the End of Love it’s evident that, despite his frail appearance, Cohen still has the voice that made him famous. He is still spry too; he has a bounce in his step and gets down to his knees and back up again which is enough to cause Goldenplec to curse their joints gone gammy from years of abuse.

But, while he performs with enthusiasm, for large parts of the first half he feels like the old man that he is. He is a frail, distant creature on stage. He is a voice lost in the music. It is that voice we know, that voice that made so many people part with substantial funds – “Thank you for endangering your household budgets,” Cohen jokes early on – but it just doesn’t stand out from the music that surrounds it.

It all just seems too far away. You can see that there is a great show playing in a smoke-filled lounge but you’re standing across the street peering in through an open door. Songs like Who by Fire and Amen are played brilliantly by all present but never truly resonate in the massive auditorium. Come Healing is perhaps the only song to do so before Cohen and Co make wake for the interval, shortly after the hour mark.

But when Cohen returns twenty minutes later with Tower of Song the atmosphere changes entirely. With just a keyboard and his back-up singers, the performance is so much more intimate. His deep, guttural voice resonates better now with the audience, both sonically and emotionally. The trend continues through the rest of the night with Chelsea Hotel #2 a highlight coming soon after. Even when the rest of the band return for Waiting for the Miracle the night never reverts to what it was before the interval.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening though comes when Cohen steps out of the spotlight for the first time in nearly two hours, letting back-up singer Sharon Robinson take the lead on Alexandra Waiting. So angelic is her voice, and such a contrast to Cohen’s, on such a beautiful song that she receives a standing ovation for her performance.

But that standing ovation is just one of several forthcoming. After a spoken version of A Thousand Kisses Deep Cohen and his band play the glorious Hallelujah which brings the whole audience to their feet. Shortly afterwards the band leave the stage for the first of many false endings, each met with thunderous applause.

The first encore of So Long Marianne, Going Home and First We Take Manhattan get the crowd – for most of the show sitting in rapt silence – rocking for the first time in the evening. It’s after 11 by the time that Cohen, standing the entire night finally skips (yes, at his age!) off stage after the pertinent I Tried to Leave.

Throughout the evening, Cohen had referred to the audience as ‘friends’. His three and a half hour set ensured that was how he left. Those who may not have been Cohen-heads before the show had no choice to be won over by this charming, humble, brilliant man. The concerns raised as the start – his age, the ticket price, the possible over-exposure – all prove unfounded. Leonard Cohen offered a truly moving evening of no little talent, false start notwithstanding. Come back often Leonard, we would love to have you again.


Leonard Cohen Photo Gallery

Photos: Yan Bourke