Reviewed on Saturday November 16
Look not beyond a Leonard Cohen concert for proof that popular music will never, ever escape the reality of its sexuality. It seems a strange thing to conclude from within such an ostensibly highbrow audience as this one – and certainly, you bristle when you realise the sexually charged ringleader is in his 80th year on earth – but it’s as true as desire itself.
Sure, the ageing Canadian bard is often captivated with the religious and the romantic, but if age can’t take the sex away from him, religion never will. “I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies and the religions,” Cohen said onstage in London in 2009, following his dedication to Zen Buddhism in the ’90s – “but cheerfulness kept breaking through.”
And so he jogs onstage in Sydney again, opening with the Mediterranean pop of ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, and spends much of the set singing from his knees. Not for a lack of strength, of course – this is merely Cohen’s natural state in his songs of worship. Worship to God? To woman? ‘The Future’ says it all: “Give me crack and anal sex”. Sexuality consumes ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’, as it does ‘I’m Your Man’, and it’s there in the famous ‘Hallelujah’ too.
There’s nothing lurid or embarrassed about this display – alongside Cohen, tonight’s spectacular three-hour set is performed by an all-star band of nine, including the Spanish virtuoso Javier Mas, who quite literally stops the show with a sprawling 12-string solo. Cohen’s interaction with his backing vocalists, Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb, is a delight too: it’s all tips of the hat, reverential bows, and a consistently balanced mix of harmony. In fact, Robinson’s solo recital of ‘Alexandra Leaving’ – one of many songs she’s written with Cohen over the years – is a high point in the show.
Not that Cohen has lost the ability to command an enormous room with that baritone. The concert isn’t loud, but it’s affecting. And as a retrospective on his remarkable songwriting, it’s a celebration. Each song is a mini-epic –nothing about Cohen’s composition has ever been rushed, least of all the melodies and the choruses. A night with Cohen is a celebration of talent, of poetry, of beauty, and yes, of sex.
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BY CHRIS MARTIN