Watch out, Bruce Springsteen. There’s a stunning new challenger on the marathon rock show circuit: Leonard Cohen.
The 78-year-old singer-songwriter played for three hours last night at Radio City Music Hall, falling to his knees in prayer and bouncing up again as some sort of poet-savior so quickly and so often it was hard to keep count. (Cohen is set to do it all over again tonight at Radio City.)
Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has been admired for decades, starting with writing the grand “Suzanne” and winding through the decades with the poetic “Famous Blue Raincoat” and, of course, “Hallelujah,” he is in the midst of a career resurgence with his nonstop touring and last year’s stunning “Old Ideas” (Columbia) album.
Cohen played more than half of “Old Ideas” at Radio City and it’s a testament to its strength that the songs fit seamlessly among his classics. He spent much of the sprawling “Amen” on his knees, using the call-and-response with his great backing singers Sharon Robinson and The Webb Sisters to draw even more attention to his poignant lyrics. For the sly, seductive “Anyhow,” Cohen showed off his humorous side, even introducing it with his plan to take up smoking again in two years, imagining the cigarettes “gleaming like the pillars of a tiny Parthenon” and how they would lead him to being connected to an IV, which somehow cracked him up.
With all that attention to “Old Ideas,” Cohen somehow still managed to skip the album’s best song “Crazy to Love You,” though it is easy to see how the gorgeous acoustic ballad wouldn’t quite fit into the set, especially when his six-piece band was so skilled. There are so many virtuosos onstage at Cohen’s show — from the great Robinson, who was stunning on “Alexandra Leaving,” to guitarists Mitch Watkins and Javier Mas, who rolled out incredible solos in a variety of musical styles effortlessly.
However, none can compare to Cohen, who holds the audience barely singing above hushed tones, performing his complex songs so straightforwardly that he both explains them and adds another level of meaning.
And his show, broken into a 80-minute opening set and a 100-minute closing one, only picks up speed and momentum as it goes on, getting the crowd going with the disco-inflected “First We Take Manhattan” and then bringing it home with the raucous “Closing Time” that had the crowd flooding the aisles to clap and hoot along.
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With this show, Cohen has merged the mastery of this craft with, well, fun, for incredibly memorable results.
SETLIST: Dance Me to the End of Love / The Future / Bird on the Wire / Everybody Knows / Who by Fire / Darkness / Ain't No Cure for Love / Amen / Come Healing / Democracy / A Thousand Kisses Deep / Anthem // INTERMISSION // Tower of Song / Suzanne / Waiting for the Miracle / Show Me the Place / Anyhow / Lover Lover Lover / Alexandra Leaving (feat. Sharon Robinson) / I'm Your Man / Hallelujah / Take This Waltz // ENCORES: So Long, Marianne / Going Home / First We Take Manhattan / Famous Blue Raincoat / If It Be Your Will (feat. The Webb Sisters) / Closing Time