On Feb. 19, 2009, the bard took Manhattan for the first time since 1993.
BY A.D. AMOROSI / PHOTO BY SCOTT WEINER
From the mania of post boomer-age New Yorkers rushing the Beacon Theater’s front door (including guys like Richard Belzer and Harvey Keitel) last Thursday night (Feb. 19) to the collective sigh every time its main attraction kneeled or doffed his hat in his appreciation of his band’s brave plaintiveness and his audience’s rapturous response, the first American showing of Leonard Cohen in fifteen+ years meant more than mere comeback or mere reunion (unless you’re considering the communion between long lost artist and fan). It was profound and religious, plain and simple.
Though the Beacon show was scheduled months ago, a Live In London DVD/ CD (from his more tentative 2008 shows) is due in weeks, as is a US tour, as is a slate of clarion clear hi-def Sundazed label vinyl versions of his first five Columbia recordings Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate, Songs from A Room, Live Songs and New Skin for the Old Ceremony. There’ll be plenty of Cohen to go around. Yet not enough.
Not ever enough.
It’s like a fellow Canadian sister of his, Joni Mitchell, once sang “Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/’til it’s gone.”
The Canadian-born Cohen is the link between the Beats, the Romantics, the Hippies, the Boulevardiers, the Punk Poets and the Manhattan Bards – and he’s the only one. And his reemergence into the cold long Manhattan night literal and figurative (not unlike that of Paul Simon’s at this same newly reopened venue days previous) was both a celebrative reminder of that generation’s only beautiful alternative, their true only sad eyed poet, and a deep declaration of their finality.
How long would there be a Cohen to celebrate – a thin man hale and spry at 74 bouncing on his heels, almost skipping as he bound to and fro across the stage?
A Simon? A Lou Reed? A Dylan even.
Ain’t it funny how time slips away?
I’ve seen your future brother and it is murder.
“It’s been a long time since I stood onstage in New York. I was 60 years old then – just a kid with a crazy dream,” said Cohen creamily in a baritone voice one note above the rasp that had been his sing-speak just previous to this announcement.
During that time away he took to Buddhism and teased about having taken to Prozac, Xanax, even “Tylenol, full strength” and though he “turned to a study of religion and philosophy, cheerfulness kept breaking through.”
Which is where we were, watching him cradle his microphone while occasionally kneeling before a grand flamenco-folk-smooth-jazz ensemble and oddly-sunny background vocalists, all who played elegantly precise waves of wonder so that Cohen could croon-chat in a mummy-lizard-like voice his stories of sensually tempered interludes, un-flowered romance and crushed-ice apocalypses.
A dapper-in-black suit and hat Cohen and his similarly dressed band started with the Spanish guitar swirling/soprano sax blowing “Dance Me to the End of Love” with his vocal an icy croak that spoke of passion. Three women’s voices curl blandly and in perfect cheery discord behind Cohen’s doom humorous lyrics of anal sex, crack, Stalin and the blizzard to blow out the biggest candle of “The Future.” Because a Cohen concert is no exercise in improvise, it’s his slightest punctuations of words like “revenge” as they ooze from his lips that cause a heart like mine to flutter. Or the way he intones “baby” in a voice so low and gravely during the gospel flit of “Ain’t No Cure For Love.”
The words: we could write pages about his Biblical rage and sage sexuality and how innovative his looks at Janis Joplin, AIDS, the LA riots, rapid aging, declining purpose, dysfunction and lost romance are as poetic verse. But here we’ll cling to the funeral organ’s whirr of “Bird on a Wire” and its bluesy guitar run; and how “Everybody Knows”‘ usual stammer is replaced by a Third Man zithery éclat with an elegant pedal steel behind that; and how the twilighty acoustic “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and “Sisters of mercy” are unsteadily steady; and how the sensational sound system allows you to hear each of his dry intentions wetly puckered – as in, you can hear his lips lick as he speaks these words:
“Don’t dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be/Ah the wars they will be fought again/The holy dove/She will be caught again, bought and sold and bought again/The dove is never free/Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
That is before he sings them as “Anthem.”
Then things got really good – a hauntingly sensual “The Gypsy’s Wife,” a breathy So, Long Marianne,” an elegant frank “The Partisan,” a positively gloomy vicious “First We Take Manhattan,” an almost tart take on “I Tried to Leave You” with a naughty haughty “I hope you’re satisfied” in its mix. All the while, Cohen boxed into air, swayed his hips and provoked the gods and the over everywhere with holiest of wise words and the wisest of holy intentions.
This is how the light got in.