Whilst half of Adelaide were across town seeing Bon Jovi, another demographic of music lover had made their way to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre to see one of popular musics most skilled songwriters perform. The venerable poet of the 1960s, Leonard Cohen returned to Adelaide for the final leg of his ‘Old Ideas World Tour’.
With five decades of experience under his belt, Cohen presented himself on the stage with unabashed honesty and sincerity and delivered a career-spanning performance. For a gentleman approaching his eighties, Cohen shows little signs of ailing. Cohen is anything but a dazzling performer, his performance style more laid-back and reserved. Yet he walks onto the stage in his neat, tailored suit and fedora, and he could be in his fifties. His band and he are dressed to match, in nineteen-thirties gangster cool.
The performance kicks off with elegantly melodic “Dance Me to the End of Love”. Cohen looks out on the full house before him, thanks Adelaide for the the warm welcome and he promises us that some impressive technicians have made it so that we can can hear “every depressing nuance” of his songs. He also apologised for the “exorbitant” price of the tickets. There are a few laughs from the crowd, who are mostly in their late fifties, but a fair few of whom appear to be there with their twenty-something children. Cohen’s smokey tones and languorous verse continues to speak to many a gloomy youth.
The band is a collection of remarkable talents, including long-serving musical director and bassist Roscoe Beck. Rafael Gayol and Mitch Watkins bring their skills with guitars, while Javiar Mas offers a bit of variation with the bandurria. Also doing a fine job creating a rich an vibrant backdrop for Cohen’s songs are Neil Larsen on keys, delivering fantastic organ solos. Cohen’s deep bass vocal was backed by the sweet, Bluegrass vocals of the Webb Sisters. Hailing from the UK, Hattie and Charley Webb were stood alongside Cohen’s collaborator, vocalist Sharon Robinson.
Cohen kneels like an evangelist, head in hands with theatrical passion. His voice has not suffered with time and his baritone seems almost to vibrate through the floor when he hits his lowest register. The next few songs are some of Cohen’s well-known numbers “The Future” and “Bird on a Wire,” which features a brilliant solo from guitarist Mitch Watkins. Sharon Robinson is also given the spotlight for her solo performance of “Alexandra Leaving”, which left the audience captivated by her rich and soulful voice.
After a short interval, the second half of the set sees Cohen returning to the stage to stand behind his proclaimed “antique” keyboard. He turns on a beat, which transforms into “Tower of Song”. The song fades out with the girls singing an angelic harmony of “doo dum dum dum day doo dum dum” on repeat. Turing to them, Cohen “Don’t stop please – because when you do I’ll be plunged back into a confrontation with the audience and all those possibilities for humiliation.”
Far from being confrontational, the Adelaide audience is thrilled, especially when Cohen picks up his guitar and begins a beautiful rendition of the preternaturally haunting “Suzanne”. The second half of the set continues to be laid-back and somber, with songs such as “Chelsea Hotel #2” and “I’m Your Man,” topped off with a spoken work rendition of “1000 Kisses Deep.” There is a standing ovation, with some fans holding aloft the covers of their favourite Cohen records.
The rest of the band return to the stage to close out the performance. The crowd are naturally thrilled when Cohen breaks into “Hallelujah,” which is perhaps one of his most beloved songs. Lastly, it is the jaunty “Take This Waltz” to see us out. Cohen’s loving Adelaide audience stand to applaud him, and his band, as they exit the stage. Fans are not left to sit in self-reflective dejection for long, however. Cohen returns to the stage, and performs “So Long, Maryanne,” one of his most beloved numbers. This is followed up by the aptly names “Going Home.” Leonard Cohen does just that, but before he leaves he thanks us all profusely. There is no need to thank us, Mr Cohen, the honour was ours.