Live in London

January 01, 1970

 

(Sony, 120 minutes)

 

www.sonymusic.com

 

 

BY JIM ALLEN

 

 

Before his 2008 European tour, the last time Leonard Cohen
brought his songs to the stage he was 60 years old — as he puts it here, “just
a kid with a crazy dream.” The spry, sagacious septuagenarian appears more
vital, intense, and energetic than ever on this audiovisual document of his
July ’08 concert at London’s
O2 Arena. Needless to say he’s the very soul of sartorial splendor, nattily
attired in a sharp, dark suit and fedora, and his stage presence is full of
suave, subtle gestures. He and his band somehow manage to make the huge venue
seem like a small club setting, despite the scenario being, as Cohen puts it
with characteristic wryness, “just the other side of intimacy.”

 

 

Drawing on some 40 years of material, Cohen carries his audience
along on a journey from the romantic, Dylanesque ballads of his debut (“So Long
Marianne,” “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”) through the
Baudelaire-with-a-nylon-string-guitar meeting of folk-rock and art song of his
‘70s work (“Who By Fire”), all the way to his latter-day status as arch,
black-humored elder statesman of singer/songwriterdom (“Everybody Knows,”
“First We Take Manhattan”). Cohen’s crater-deep voice is a distinctive
instrument in itself, and he uses it as a precise tool to wring maximum poetic
resonance from his masterfully crafted lyrics, with the band providing just the
right amount of color, but never overpowering their fearless leader.

 

 

For all his sardonic sensibilities, Cohen nevertheless seems
truly humbled to be performing for such a huge, enraptured audience after such
a long absence from public performance; he removes his hat and earnestly,
graciously thanks his listeners several times throughout the show. And between
songs, the notoriously dark, moody troubadour breaks out into an ear-to-ear
grin more often than not. The stage setup is a classy, simple one, and the
camera focuses, naturally, on Cohen most of the time, with a predilection for
close-ups that reveal an older, but not aged-looking man, having the time of
his life. This is balanced out by just enough screen-time for the band to keep
things visually interesting, though one might wish for a few more long shots or
the reactions of a few faces in the audience now and again. Nevertheless, when
one of the world’s greatest songwriters returns to roam the stage again after
such a woefully long absence — and does it with so much panache — all you
really need to do is point and shoot for a one-of-a-kind experience.

 

 

Special Features: none.

 

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