Friday, 30 January 2009

Leonard Cohen, Sydney 2009

When I first heard Hallelujah, I figured out how to play it on repeat and drove my brother crazy listening to it non-stop. I was a teenager, and Leonard Cohen's sorrowful lyrics held a certain superficial appeal. Going only by his songs, I always imagined Cohen as a saddened, world-weary man, and never saw beyond the surface to the depths of emotion over which sorrow was draped. So when this 74-year-old man made his entrance, sprightly skipping, onto the Sydney Entertainment Centre stage to a standing ovation, I knew my preconceptions were about to be overturned.
Who would have guessed? Leonard Cohen is essentially an optimist, an idealist, a hopeless romantic. He quips that when he was last on tour, 15 years ago, he was 60; "just a kid with a crazy dream". The saddest songs are rendered joyful when sung by this irrepressible man who's gone through it all and come out the better for it. He spent the last decade studying philosophy and religion, he says, "but cheerfulness kept breaking through." He, the man behind the music, is inspirational.
But oh, the music! Rich, intricate instrumental sounds replace the synthesised recordings on his albums - he shares the stage with an amazingly talented and versatile band, and his songs have been arranged to showcase their musicality. And share the stage he does, humbly, elegantly, graciously - solos on sax, harmonica, spanish guitars, harp, and double-bass interleave with his golden voice to bring a fresh appreciation to old songs. Performed live, the beauty of the music approaches that of Cohen's lyrics. This is more than a concert for fans of Leonard Cohen; it's a concert for lovers of music.
Now, the only sorrow I feel is the realisation that I'll probably never hear those songs sung the same way again. Recollection will fade from my memory, slowly obscured by those old recordings I can still play on repeat.

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