Thursday, March 14, 2013

Leonard Cohen Delivers a 'Hallelujah'-Worthy Performance -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Leonard Cohen
Chicago Theatre
March 13, 2013

Some rock concerts are like thrill rides.

Others are akin to primal scream therapy.

Seeing Leonard Cohen for the first time on Wednesday night felt like being under a warm blanket next to a fireplace, reading a book you just can't put down.

I realize that might sound awfully boring to some. But those who appreciate the pleasure of being timelessly transfixed, sans chaos and commotion, will understand what I mean when I suggest that witnessing Leonard Cohen did not feel like watching a rock concert.

Thanks to his songs, his style, his gracious demeanor and his gifted accompanying musicians, seeing the 78-year-old Canadian perform 27 songs over more than 3 hours somehow just felt a whole lot classier and more unique than a typical rock show, even ones by contemporaries like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison or Paul Simon.

Accompanied by six backing musicians, including a violinist (Alexandru Bublitchi) and a Spanish Guitar player from Barcelona (Javier Mas), plus three background singers including longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson, prior to his second song of the night--aptly titled "The Future"--Cohen said:
"We don't know when we will meet again. Nobody knows that. But I can promise you that tonight we're going to give you all we've got."
It was a promise abundantly kept.

Although his debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, dates to 1967, I've really only become familiar with Cohen during the last few years. So it's not like I knew every song he played, a mix of old and new.

Certainly, highlights included those I did recognize: "Bird on a Wire," "Everybody Knows," "Democracy," "Suzanne," "I'm Your Man," "So Long, Marianne" and an absolutely ravishing "Hallelujah," during which he kneeled at center stage, as he occasionally did throughout the night. (See the full setlist for Leonard Cohen in Chicago on

But perhaps the most riveting moment of the two-sets-plus-two-encores (of 5 songs total) show was when Cohen delivered a spoken-word recitation of "A Thousand Kisses Deep." (Video, not from last night.)

And in addition to standing admiringly still, hat in hand, as his terrific band members delivered impressive solos, the gallant Cohen ceded the spotlight to Robinson, who delivered a beautiful rendition of "Alexandra Leaving."

He did likewise--on the evening's penultimate song, "If It Be Your Will"--for the lovely Webb Sisters, Charley and Hattie, who provided excellent background vocals along with Robinson the rest of the night.

Though Cohen played three fewer songs at the magnificent Chicago Theatre than he did at a much raved about show in Rosemont last November, as well as at other recent tour stops, as I left at 11:30pm all I could feel was satisfied that I was smart enough to seize the chance to see Leonard Cohen when the opportunity once again presented itself.

No, for those wondering about the extra 1/2@ I could have awarded the poetic, dapper and sonorous troubadour, Cohen's more subtly sublime show didn't quite provide the overt uplift of Springsteen, U2 or his fellow Canadians, Arcade Fire. So I can't say that I enjoyed it just as much.

But for a 78-year-old man to sing for three hours with nary a note I didn't like, well, especially on a bitingly cold night in Chicago, the musical equivalent of being under a warm blanket felt as good as I could hope.


And, as per the title of one the songs Cohen performed from 2012's excellent Old Ideas, "Amen."

1 comment:

Don Breitfelder said...

Astounding show! Performances, sound, energy. A truly magical evening!