review by Jim Beckmann
photos by Hilary Harris
The past week in Seattle saw two historic and rare performances, both at the WaMu Theater, and both quite different from each other. This past Monday, My Bloody Valentine roared through the expansive venue with all the noise of a jet engine, albeit a sonically complex and layered one, touring after more than a dozen years of inactivity (check the review and photos here). But on the Thursday before, Leonard Cohen, the legendary Canadian songwriter-poet, took the same stage and performed like he hadn’t missed a beat since the last time he played Seattle 15 years ago, when he was “just a crazy kid with a dream” (he joked that he was just 60 at the time). Ably backed by a stylishly decked-out six-piece band, including the masterful Spanish guitarist Javier Mas and vocal harmonies by his writing partner Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters, Cohen made up for lost time with a two set, three encore show. If you can think of a well known Leonard Cohen song, chances are he played it: “Chelsea Hotel,” “Bird On The Wire,” “Dance Me To The End Of Love,” “Waiting for the Miracle,” “Tower of Song,” “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and so many others thrilled his long-time fans. Between those, he recited poetry, like “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” and stepped back to let Robinson and the Webb sisters take over on “Boogie Street” and “If It Be Your Will,” respectively. If anyone felt old during the nearly three hour concert, it was those audience members whose stamina surely paled in comparison to Cohen’s reserved but continual theatrics: his spry jog on and off stage for each set, his repeated kneeling before Mas’ inevitable guitar soloing, his suave hip-tilt/arm-pump combos and his sly boogying as he sang the line, “see the white man dancing,” during “The Future.” Cohen was as alluring as he’d ever been, and his voice, as impeccable -- deep and rich, if not more so now. If there were any critiques to be made -- like of the slightly dated quality of the instrumentation, time-stamped by an over-reliance on saxophone and Hammond organ -- you can’t fault the musicianship of anyone on stage, as they all performed brilliantly. And Cohen made certain we were aware of it by generously championing each member at least once during each set. Joy was the theme of the night -- of the musicians, of the audience, of Cohen himself -- and seemed just as Cohen described in his introduction to “Anthem,” of how during the process of performing these songs, with their often emotionally beleaguered, weary or jaded nature, again and again “cheerfulness kept creeping through.” Finally, as he closed the third encore, after the humorously apt “I Tried to Leave You,” Cohen gave a final blessing on “Whither Thou Goest” and many of us left fulfilled by more than just a night of entertainment -- but rather, by the entire career of one of rock’s most influential songwriters.