As an intrepid music journalist/fan/geek lucky enough to live in a city where gob-smacking gigs take place almost every night of the week, I see a lot of shows. Sometimes I wonder if I see too many. Like, if at this rate, I will eventually become jaded, and it’ll take all four Beatles, with John and George risen from the grave, riding on unicycles with Madonna and David Bowie balanced chickenfight-style on their shoulders, while performing all of the Who‘s Tommy , to get me excited again.
But then I saw Leonard Cohen play at L.A. Live this past Friday–here was a 75-year-old man, and still one of the coolest dudes on the planet–and I felt utterly inspired. It made me feel like there are many good years of gig-going ahead of me before any jadedness sets in.
But few future concerts I attend will be as remarkable as Leonard’s beyond-good Good Friday performance.
Leonard is, like I said, incredibly cool, so he’s playing the Coachella Festival next weekend alongside newbies like Late Of The Pier and White Lies. But a truncated set in the scorching desert sun may not be the ideal setting to sincerely see L. Cohen–and let’s face it, most of his elder fans have no desire or stamina to deal with all the portaloo lines and beachball-bouncing, bikini-babe spring-breakers. So this weekend Leonard played two sold-out nights at L.A. Live, and Friday was his first. It was also his first time touring North America in 15 years.
And he was worth the wait. He’d be worth suffering through THE smelliest portaloo visit to witness live, really.
This was a truly special evening, not just another L.A. gig. Leonard was true class act, despite his dirty-old-man shtick–few septuagenarians could get away with lines about oral trysts in the Chelsea Hotel or how good it feels to be “treated like meat” by a woman and not come across as, well, creepy and gross. But then again, few men in any age bracket could make jokes about Y2K and seem as witty as Oscar Wilde, or play a tinny Casio keyboard and seem like a musical genius.
But there was just something about that better-with-age husk of a voice; and the genteel way he removed his chapeau every time he bowed or every time one of his band members soloed; and the off-the-charts chemistry between him and his backup singers (longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters, the latter whom were so angelic, one of them even played a harp) as they locked eyes and serenaded each other.
No wonder the man received a countless number of standing ovations (literally–the adoring spectators leapt to their feet the minute Leonard first walked onstage, and after almost every song, and during several band solos, and after some of Leonard’s clever bon mots…so much so that I stopped counting after the ninth standing O).
He also played countless encores (it was at least five, maybe six), refusing to leave the stage even after he crooned what everyone naturally assumed what was his logical swan song, “Closing Time.” Again, this was inspiring. Here the audience was composed of people half, a third, or even a quarter Leonard’s age, all beginning to tire out as the concert reached the three-hour marathon mark. And yet Cohen kept going, and going, and going, seemingly enjoying himself way too much to say goodnight, and seemingly bursting with the energy of a hopped-up-on-Red-Bull tweenage boy. (After every encore, he literally skipped off into the stage wings, like a precocious child.)
“Thank you for keeping my music alive and paying these exorbitant ticket prices,” a visibly moved and characteristically well-mannered Leonard told the reverent audience.
No, thank YOU, Mr. Cohen. I’ll see you at Coachella.