Tonight in Seattle:  

Leonard Cohen Live In Seattle After Sixteen Long Years

Photographs by Mary Witter

23 Apr 2009 at WaMu Theatre

Shortly after 8:00 p.m., the house lights went down and nine figures sauntered onto the stage to join an assortment of instruments. One could see a series of silhouettes, but none appeared to be the anticipated songwriter who last played in Seattle in 1993. A few seconds later, Leonard Cohen ran, yes, ran onto the stage in a gesture of youthful enthusiasm. At the age of 74, Cohen is just as sophisticated and impressive as he ever was. Three and a half hours later, his set concluded with rapturous applause and a packed audience containing the aging and the young, with mouths agape.  This performance, by one of the few living legends, was as astonishing as anyone could have hoped for.

Opening with “Dance Me To The End Of Love” and closing with the unanticipated “I Tried To Leave You,” Cohen raspily crooned his way through a set that consisted of a career-spanning 26 songs. Every facet of his catalogue was at least intimated upon, from the well-known tracks to relatively obscure ballads, the stark folk of his early years to the smooth jazz rhythms of recent albums. The differing periods and styles were intermingled in a set that worked surprisingly well.

Leonard Cohen these days is biscuit thin and classically attired in a suit and fedora; he is weathered and grey, yet remains improbably spry. His identity of the immortal poet was even more striking in the flesh. With wit, humor and candor he performed his repertoire with eyes closed or while on bended knees. His compositions were incredibly captivating no matter what the arrangement depicted. Two musicians circa I’m Your Man were part of the touring group, Roscoe Beck on bass guitar and Bob Metzger on electric guitar. The only unfortunate aspect of the performaning band was the inclusion of a saxophone player and three backing vocalists. Their involvement in the songs was admittedly corny. Despite this, Cohen belted out his lyrics with such assurance that he could have had about anyone singing or playing alongside him.

As far as the crowd-pleasing material was concerned, Cohen gracefully waltzed through renditions of “Bird On A Wire,” "Tower Of Song" “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” without any missteps. For the esoteric crowd and the obsessed fanatics, he brought out marvelous versions of "Who By Fire" and “The Gypsy's Wife,” as well as a breathtaking spoken word recitation of “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” All the while in his usual classy manner, he introduced his entire ensemble twice and referred to the audience as ‘friends’ numerous times. At the close of the final encore, the performers lined up at the front of the stage and bowed before the audience only to be greeted with a din that was quite staggering.

It has been fifteen years since Leonard Cohen’s last US tour and he is apparently working on new material. His voice is still in fine form and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. If anything, Cohen appears to be thoroughly invigorated by his current tour. If he is truly catapulted by the momentum of his live shows over the past year, one can only hope that he records another collection of poetic ruminations before too long.

A Thousand Kisses Deep, Leonard Cohen

Indeed, the saxophone/flute player and the back-up singers (especially when given lead duties) were "corny." As a result, the show was far from "astonishing as anyone could hope for." The Kenny G vibe coupled with a sentimentality that would make Celine Dion cringe, repeatedly devalued Leonard's Cohen's artistry.

Yes, it was great to see such an incredible performer. I'm glad I went. Nonetheless, let's just admit that Mr. Cohen's band let him down, even if he was often able to rise above their inherent lapses of taste. Almost just as bad, Leonard's management betrayed him as well. He never should have been booked to play such an unmitigated dump. The juxtaposition between performer and venue couldn't have been more stark. I was in the 9th row and felt miles away. There is simply no reason to ever have a seated show in this industrial wasteland. It was fine for My Bloody Valentine last night, but could not have been more inappropriate for Leonard Cohen.

I disagree entirely with the music comment. Anyone who has ever listened to a Cohen album (especially latter day) and is familiar with his older stuff probably knows better than to expect really good backing music. It's not really his thing, I guess. What I was really pleased about was that for ONCE, his voice wasn't completely overpowered by his female vocalists. Amazing! I didn't see his performance as Celine Dion-ey at all. The reverence and respect with which he treated his band and his vocalists felt completely genuine and unrehearsed. Dude is a class act. I loved that he put his hat over his heart while the musicians were performing. I got the feeling he truly loves performing, and that while he was playing for a crowd, he was playing as much for himself.

I agree entirely with the venue comment. What a waste. It was strange and disorienting to have to squint to see him but to feel his music through the floorboards. His music is so intimate, but the venue does make you feel "miles away."

I think the part I loved most was the way his older songs sound with his current voice. That was by far the most beautiful version of "Suzanne" I have ever heard. It kind of felt like he approaches some of his songs with a different set of eyes as an older man. Some songs sounded like the feelings he felt when sang them were as deep and true as when he wrote them. Others sounded like time had time had allowed him to look at them and maybe laugh a little.

That was the concert of a lifetime.

I certainly never meant to suggest that the Celine Dion vibe came from Leonard himself, the saccharin emanates from his background vocalists, most notably Sharon Robinson (aka his "collaborator"), who regrettably took the lead on a few songs as well.

Meanwhile, yes I've listened to his albums and I suppose it's one thing to hear some cheesy instrumentation, it's another to see it.

I had been looking forward to this show to a ridiculous degree. I was expecting a transcendent experience and it just didn't happen for me. I found that befuddling since Leonard consistently breaks me whenever I listen to him on my own. While, surely I bear some responsibility for failing to fully appreciate his performance, I still blame the venue, the backups singers and the one man horn section. Leonard himself, most definitely, can do no wrong.

I'm glad, at least, we can both agree that the WaMu Theatre was an inappropriate venue to showcase Leonard's greatness. While I suppose the glory of a greater power resides everywhere, I'd rather pray in a cathedral than concrete bunker any day.

Leonard Cohen New Images - Radio City Music Hall
http://www.msg.com/photos/leonard-cohen-live-at-radio-city-/slide/1/
This guy is awesome!

spot on! great insight. I couldn't agree more.

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