Leonard Cohen

Wembley Arena, London on Sunday 9 September 2012

A strange atmosphere dominates the vast hall of Wembley Arena prior to Leonard Cohen's second show in as many nights. As a result of the last minute change in venue, what should be the buzz of anticipation at seeing the master of his craft gives way to petty grumblings of inconvenience.

That is until the man himself skips onstage to a powerful rendition of 'Dance Me To The End Of Love'. What follows is essentially a greatest hits set (if, of course, you consider Cohen to have actually had hits) with the likes of 'Bird On The Wire' and 'Everybody Knows' receiving deservedly ecstatic applause.

The first show-stopping performance of the evening is without doubt the majestic 'Who By Fire' which follows a frankly sublime guitar solo that never dares drift into over-indulgence. With Cohen's famous croon now deeper than ever before, it's a moment that sends shivers down the spine.

What is striking throughout the course of the evening is the real affection and admiration that Leonard justifiably expresses towards his musicians, bringing their creativity and subtlety to the fore. Each member of the band plays an absolutely crucial part in the evening, particularly his backing singers, whose elegant harmonies shine throughout. Ordinarily, when a singer of Cohen's magnitude stands aside to let others take centre stage, you would expect a rush to the bar. However, with The Webb Sisters performing the beautiful 'Coming Back To You' and long-term collaborator Sharon Robinson taking lead vocals for a glorious and heartbreaking version of 'Alexandra Leaving', you would be able to hear a pin drop, such are the captivating renditions of both songs.

Considering Cohen receives nothing but plaudits for his way with words, it comes as no surprise that the crowd burst into applause not just at the end of songs, but throughout them. It's something that happens often during the course of the evening, but is most noticeable in the delightfully raunchy 'I'm Your Man', which if anything, at least proves that he still has plenty of admirers, judging from the wolf whistles that ring around the arena.

Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of the evening is saved for the encore. Following a richly deserved standing ovation, the crowd remains on their feet for a sing-along of 'So Long, Marianne'. It's a moment of tender beauty that could melt the hardest of hearts. Therein perhaps lies the real genius of Cohen – the ability to transform the most melancholy of feelings into the warmth of communal joy.

He may refer to himself on the self-deprecating 'Going Home' as "a lazy bastard living in a suit", but Cohen is in fact quite the opposite. Just two weeks away from his 78th birthday, the fact that he is still able to deliver a three and a half hour set of intense beauty, melancholy and drama is quite a feat. He may be promoting 'Old Ideas’, but still after all this time, those ideas remain the very best.

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article by: Craig Jones

published: 13/09/2012 16:03