Sunday, April 17, 2011

Born with the gift of a golden voice

Unlike Bob Dylan, his only rival as the greatest songwriter/poet to emerge in the 1960s, Leonard Cohen is an affable sort, prefacing his songs with remarks to the audience whom he calls "friends." While glum Bob acts like he's making a sacrifice by appearing before his fans, Cohen thanks them for "keeping my songs alive" and says, "We're honored to play for you tonight." He jokes with them in his witty, self-deprecating way. In Leonard Cohen Live in London, taped at the O2 Arena on July 17, 2008, he recalls that he was 60 when he last played London, "just a kid with a crazy dream."

And the crowd loves him, cheering enthusiastically, and roaring their approval when, in his raspy baritone, he sings those lines from 1988's "Tower of Song":

"I was born like this, I have no choice,
I was born with the gift of a golden voice."

Cohen's voice IS golden, and the songs are magnificent. He performs 24 of them in this concert, all but one from his selective pen. Most of his signature works are here - "Suzanne," "Everybody Knows," "Take This Waltz," "Hallelujah," "Sisters of Mercy" (but not, alas, my favorite, "Joan of Arc") - songs whose melancholy tone nonetheless have a calm, soothing effect, the perfect antidote to a world that, as Cohen observes, "is plunged in darkness and chaos." Hallelujah, indeed!

Cohen is also kind to his collaborators, introducing his band and backup singers several times, and highlighting their exceptional work even during the songs ("Dino Soldo on the saxophone," he points out midway through "Bird on the Wire," and "Javier Mas on the archilaud" before Cohen has even sung a note of "Who By Fire").

I'll always rank Cohen's October 1988 appearance on PBS's Austin City Limits above any other live performances since it was then that I was formally introduced to this incomparable artist (and when will that glorious hour be released on DVD?), but Leonard Cohen Live in London is outstanding. This is a moment in time to be cherished, now and in the future, when, to paraphrase the man himself, we ache in the places where we used to play. If possible, his voice and music will resonate even stronger then, and heal the most battered heart and soul. I love you, Leonard.

© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks


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