This was never going to be just a concert. Communion with the man whose emotional and spiritual quests have provided the GPS mapping for more than one generation is, in fact, more of an act of worship.
Cohen entered with a six-strong band and three female singers. Hats were obligatory, and Cohen kept his dapper grey fedora in place all evening, except when doffing it with polite humility to acknowledge the applause that started as soon as he walked on, a show of gratitude for his return to the UK stage after an absence of 15 years.
The set kicked off with "Dance Me to the End of Love", with Cohen almost crouching over his hand-held microphone. All evening, he reverentially gave his attention (and constant name checks) to his fellow artists, and the deference was merited by their musicianship. Roscoe Beck takes credit for orchestrating the first-rate band, which included the guitarist Bob Metzger and the multi-instrumentalist Dino Soldo. Javier Mas spun histrionic displays on a range of stringed instruments, seated regally downstage in a plush armchair.
Female voices have always provided the perfect satin on which Cohen's vocal gravel can best be displayed. Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters are perfection. At one point, they transformed the penitential poetry of "If It Be Your Will" into an angelic anthem. Cohen, attentive and impressed, doffed his cap.
The 73-year-old seemed relaxed and cheery. On recent albums, his voice has become a smoky whisper, but in live performance it has the strength and energy of tours from decades past. He relished the ironic line "I was born with the gift of a golden voice" (from "Tower of Song"), and so did the audience. It wasn't the only humour on display, either. Apologising for his long absence from performance, he recalled his last tour, aged 60, when he was "just a crazy kid with a dream".
Stand-up comedy gave way to poetry, but it was the songs that made the ticket price (£75 each in the stalls) seem a small sum to pay. We got gems hewn from every stage of his career, from as far back as "Suzanne", to "First We Take Manhattan" and "Boogie Street". Delicate backdrop lighting was carefully attuned to mirror the delicacy of "Sisters of Mercy" and the passion of "Democracy".
After several encores, he gave us 1974's "I Tried to Leave You", with its parting line: "And here's a man still working for your smile." He earned a hatful.
Touring to 3 Aug (www.leonardcohen.com)
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