By Kelly Carmichael
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Date / Venue: Saturday December 21st, Vector Arena, Auckland
Fresh from performances in Christchurch and Wellington, the final show of Leonard Cohen's celebrated Old Ideas world tour unfurled in Auckland on Saturday evening. Before even sounding a note, the packed Vector Arena gave Cohen a standing ovation as he took the stage, a fitting tribute to one of the greatest singer songwriters of the modern age.
Although Cohen and his band had over 120 shows under their belt from a tour that began in August 2012, he promised Aucklanders that "tonight and especially tonight, we're going to give you everything we've got." Beginning with three of his most celebrated songs Dance Me to the End of Love, The Future and Bird on a Wire Cohen treated the delighted audience to highlights from his long career and most recent album. Delivered in the gritty timbre that can set the hairs on the back of your neck alive, Leonard Cohen's lyrics were as evocative as ever and that characteristic voice had lost none of its delightful leathery growl.
Many in the crowd were longtime Leonard Cohen fans, they'd been with him for years and he treated them like old friends. With profound humility and gratitude it felt like Cohen invited his audience to share not only in his back catalogue, but also to recall the memories we attach to songs that impact our lives. That's the beautiful thing about Cohen's music - the insightful, witty and occasionally nihilistic words are his, but the songs become ours, they belong to the listeners. That, perhaps, is Cohen's greatest gift to his fans.
Also on stage were more old friends, band members and back up singers who have toured with Cohen for many years, respectfully introduced and honored by him for their contribution and talent. The violinistAlexandru Bublitchi added a welcome and fiery gypsy flavour to several songs, while Cohen's collaboratorSharon Robinson sang their song Alexandra Leaving solo. The sublime Come Healing from the 2012 Old Ideas album, a secular hymn for our time, saw Cohen pair in close harmony with Charley and Hattie Webb.
Leonard Cohen is a hypnotic live performer. His is a measured, thoughtful and intensely felt performance, more likely than not delivered on his knees before quickly springing back up again. In his hands the melancholy lyrics of Tower of Song find a sweet poignancy and humorous irony, a joke the audience is in on and enjoys just as much as the singer. The nearly 80 year old Cohen has stage presence and charisma fitting for someone Lou Reed described as "...a figure whose body of work achieves greater mystery and depth as time goes on." He's also still looking pretty sharp in that trademark fedora and dark suit.