O2 Arena, London

Music review: Leonard Cohen - The 78-year-old troubadour enjoys a mournful waltz

5.00

 

"If you want a doctor/ I'll examine every inch of you," he growls, with relish, on "I'm Your Man". The 78-year-old troubadour's lyrics have always been infused with lust, as well as searing candour and wit. If an alien race wanted to understand human obsession, the pungent words of Keats and Cohen ("Many loved before us/ I know that we are not new") would probably be the best place to start.

The Canadian poet is as softly belligerent ("I'm not quite ready to hang up the boxing gloves...  but I know where the hook is") and droll ("Thanks for not going home, I really appreciate that") as ever. Cohen has always been a self-lacerating artist, with potent confessions ("I have torn everyone who reached out to me" on "Bird on a Wire") and a talent for the puncturing the absurd ("I was born with the gift of a golden voice" on "Tower of Song").

We all have Kelley Lynch, his former business manager, to thank for Cohen's on-stage resurrection. The ex-lover emptied the septuagenarian's bank accounts, forcing Cohen back on the road. And the artist is clearly having a ball, playing out the roles of pugilist, preacher and poet, bending down on his knees at the front of the stage, quietly demanding intimacy. He promises that "We'll give everything we've got" and, enhanced by his technically accomplished backing singers, the Webb sisters (Charley and Hattie) and Sharon Robinson, they clearly do - even though the arena is cursed by some distracting feedback.

Cohen's three-and-a-bit-hour serenade is divided into two sets, with two encores to boot. The first set is blessed by the caustic "Everybody Knows", a compelling "Who by Fire" and anti-war track "Lover Lover Lover". The second set is stronger, with Cohen in skittish mood. He starts by playing the keyboards with his elbow before performing a perfect rendition of "Suzanne", his weathered voice quivering with remembrance. "Chelsea Hotel # 2" and "I'm Your Man" are equally robust, but nothing tops the sumptuous "So Long, Marianne" and his plea "I never said that I was brave."

After reclaiming his "Hallelujah", the Webb sisters come to the fore on "Take This Waltz" - a lot of tonight's material feels like a mournful waltz at the tether end of a wake, and you wouldn't want it any other way. "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" is the only glaring omission, but, frankly, this 27-song set is divine. Luckily for us, this beast won't go to sleep...

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