Cohen charms Opera House
Manchester Confidential.com Ltd http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk ... pera_House Rob Haynes on a living legend's first appearance in 15 years
The brief interruption into the city of the summer sun has passed, and the skies have greyed over, dispensing showers hither and thither. In a part of Leonard Cohen’s soul, one suspects, he is nodding with satisfaction at this development. After all, the man has spent decades carefully nurturing a melancholic reputation which makes Morrissey seem like Ainsley Harriott, but the speed at which this four night residency sold out proves that the appeal of such maudlin introspection remains strong.
"The sold-out crowd rise to a standing ovation before the singer has uttered a note."
Recent years have confirmed the downbeat Cohen worldview – having retreated to a Buddhist monastery for much of the nineties, the singer discovered that his manager had taken certain Buddhist views on material goods a step too far and spirited away most of his bank balance. Cohen’s recent bout of activity can, in part, be attributed to this. But as he shimmies onto the stage in the company of a nine-piece band there’s not a trace of reluctance in his demeanour, and the sold-out crowd (including Jarvis Cocker) rise to a standing ovation before the singer has uttered a note. For a 73-year-old he is looking in unfeasibly good shape. Dressed in a grey pinstripe suit which he inadequately fills, topped with a matching fedora which he will repeatedly doff respectfully throughout the evening, he resembles a Mafia Peter Cushing. The band are similarly attired in a range of elegant threads and hats – imagine that the parents of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals had formed a group.
He opens with 1984’s 'Dance Me To the End of Love', and within seconds, rather oddly, is addressing it on bended knee to his seated acoustic guitarist. His voice these days sounds like it is huskily whispering a lullaby directly into your ear from about six inches away, and makes a superb focal point.
It’s a slick, professional show and one the players are clearly relishing, not least Cohen himself, whose often overlooked humour makes for a splendid line in between-song banter. He muses on the last time he was in Manchester, guessing at around 15 years ago. “I was 60, 15 years ago,” he recalls. “Just a kid with a crazy dream…”
The simplicity of the songs, performed by that voice, is what established Cohen’s reputation, and it is something of a shame that the new arrangements have quite so much of the band on them, with the spartan elegance of the originals frequently smothered beneath layers of smooth jazz and extended solo spots. The effect over a near three-hour set becomes soporific, although the crowd – the majority of whom appear of an age to have enjoyed Cohen’s work the first time around – lap it up adoringly.
Still, to these ears the evening’s finest moments come when less is demonstrably more – 'Tower of Song' is accompanied by a simple keyboard programmed beat (and Cohen beams radiantly at the disproportionate applause which greets his rudimentary keyboard solo). '1000 Kisses Deep' is a stunningly effective, straightforward poetry recital against a vague synthesiser wash, while 'Suzanne' is the only time Cohen plays (more or less) unaccompanied but for his own acoustic guitar, and it’s the high point.
“I bid you farewell. I don’t know when I’ll be back,” he intones on 'Tower of Song', and it’s a fair point for a man well into his eighth decade, but this iconic night should remain consolation enough to his enraptured audience.