Leonard Cohen live at Leeds

Sometimes when you go to see your musical heroes it only brings disappointment.

I went to a Bob Dylan concert at the NEC in Birmingham many moons ago and it was hopeless. I then saw Lou Reed at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester not quite so many moons ago and it was just dull.


Thankfully, the legends of Canadian music seem to do things differently. Going to Neil Young's first-ever gig in Newfoundland in 2009 was amazing: he played a brilliant set with an energy and a gusto that you couldn't help but be swept away by. And last weekend, I was fortunate enough to go to Leonard Cohen's show in Leeds. It was equally fantastic.

My dear mother had seen Len on his last UK tour and enthused about how great he was. She is a bit biased though, as she ABSOLUTELY LOVES Mr Cohen, so I needed to see him for myself. As an arbiter of accurate assessment, I took Dr Goodchild with me, as she is less swayed by his musical charms.

The gig had been shifted two days for religious reasons and perhaps because of this, when we got to the new First Direct Arena, we found ourselves upgraded. Unexpectedly moved to a prime location just a few rows back from the stage, we couldn't believe our luck.

It's only a model!

This lasted until people sat down in front of us and behind us. Those in front of us revealed the shoddiness of the stadium design: legroom designed for someone who didn't actually possess any legs. If I'd had to pay £75 I'd have been very unimpressed.

Behind us it was even more unimpressive, though, and this was purely thanks to the concert-goers. A couple in their 50s decided that what we really wanted to hear throughout the performance, at every moment they could possibly manage, was them chatting away inanely. Sadly the compression of the seating meant I couldn't free myself to reach over and thump them.

If anyone tells you it's youngsters who don't know how to behave at a live show, they should go and see how the oldies do it. They're just as bad.

Thankfully, the genuine oldie on stage was wonderful. He may be approaching octogenarianism, but Leonard skipped onto stage like Eric Morecambe. Some of his subsequent moves had more in common with Monty Burns, I admit, but his joie de vivre was never in question.

It probably helps that he has a fabulous band, including a mesmerizing Catalonian guitarist, a wonderful Moldovan violinist, and two angelic Kentish ladies on backing vocals. The whole group was given opportunities to show what they could do, and each time Leonard doffed his hat and stood watching and listening to them reverentially.


We, though, were there to listen to him, and we were not disappointed.

I was most looking forward to hearing his songs from the 80s and 90s, freed from the shoddy production and automated keyboard effects. This was immediately achieved by starting the show with Dance Me To The End Of Love. I can't now go back to the original without wincing slightly.

My favourite song of the first part was one of his new ones, The Darkness. The mark of a truly great artist is an ability to produce new works that are interesting, different, and - most crucially - good, and The Darkness is all of those.

I caught the darkness
Drinking from your cup
I said: Is this contagious?
You said: Just drink it up


After all the old dears in the audience had been to the loo, part two began with the wonderful Tower of Song. It was just Leonard at the keyboard, accompanied by his backing singers, and when he played a solo, the audience applauded.

"Are you mocking me?" he stopped and asked, and he was probably on to something.

To prove his playing ability, he threw in the Everybody Knows solo and challenged the crowd to applaud him again. They did, of course.

Earlier in the evening, I'd told Dr Goodchild that I didn't need to hear Leonard play his 60s classics, because the originals were superlative. Then he started playing Suzanne, and it was beautiful and I realized I was being stupid.

When he followed this with Chelsea Hotel #2, well, words failed me. Such a rich, sad, funny, moving song, perhaps the greatest of all his compositions, and performed with tenderness and profundity by a man looking back at a time so long ago. Never has 'I don't even think of you that often,' sounded so mournful.

The concert could have stopped there and I'd have been happy, but there were plenty more classics to show off, and with a band like he has, why would you want to do anything else?

Eventually, a little after 11.15pm, he had to stop so we could catch the late train home. My knees thanked him, whilst his knees had a final workout as he skipped from the stage.

The complete set list can be found here, and there are various low-quality videos to be watched on YouTube, but they don't really help convey the magic. Hopefully a live album or DVD will be released to do the show justice.

And though I may never get to see Leonard again, I am incredibly thankful that I had the privilege of watching him this once, of enjoying his wit and warmth, his seriousness and his silliness, his music and his magic.

Thank you for the songs, Mr Cohen, and for all the pleasure you've brought to so many.

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