Windsor Hall, Bournemouth International Centre
When Leonard Cohen turns 80 next year he’s going to start smoking again… He tells us exactly how in the lengthy pre-amble to Anyhow, a highlight of his most recent album Old Ideas, which he sets in a protracted jazz ramble that captures its author at his very finest – playful, brutally honest, nowhere near ready to check out and about as far from resting on his laurels as he could be.
When Cohen returns to the stage five years ago for his first tour in 15 years, there was a sense he reconnected with a part of himself he’d almost forgotten. He needed to earn a crust and fast. He succeeded – and how!
Now he’s back – it would have been sooner, he tells us, but he didn’t want to make a nuisance of himself.
Spending far more time on his knees that you’d reasonably expect from a man of his vintage, Cohen is a genial host, as warm and inviting as his voice his voice is rich and magnificently weathered. His runs on stage at the start of both of the night’s sets – he turns in a good three-hour shift by the way – and skips off… that’s right, skips. He serves up three encores and presides over some of the most accomplished, precise and heartfelt musicianship the BIC has ever witnessed.
The stage was as immaculately dressed as its inhabitants and the sound flawless – high-class fidelity indeed. The audience devoted and elated, the object of their affection humble and grateful for their attentions. “Is this compassion for the elderly?” he asks after warm applause greeted his perfunctory keyboard solo in Tower Of Song. No, it was borderline worship. And well deserved.
There aren’t really hits to speak of, nothing so tacky, but the familiar material – Hallelujah, Suzanne, Bird on the Wire, Lover Lover Lover, Chelsea Hotel #2, So Long Marianne and a driving First We Take Mahattan – is delivered with grace and feeling. Of his singers, he demands his muse Sharon Robinson take Alexandra Leaving, which she does to beautiful effect, then later the Webb Sisters shroud If It Be Your Will in crystal clear traditional English intonation and make Come Healing the highlight of the night.
There was no room for anything less than perfection here. Javier Mas (mandolin, bandurria), Mitch Watkins (guitars) and Alexandru Bublitchi (violin) trade licks and solos on – most tellingly in the build up to Who By Fire; Neil Larsen made his Hammond B3 sing, bassist Roscoe Beck held the whole lot together and drummer Rafael Gayol stuck to his brushes nearly all night as if to prove less really is more.
Songs transcend mere music and words in a quiet triumph for quality over width and in an age in which the cheap thrill rules and the quick return is all, a timely reminder of what matters most.
First set: Dance Me To The End of Love, The Future, Bird On The Wire, Everybody Knows, Who By Fire, The Gypsy Wife, Darkness, Amen, Come Healing, Lover Lover Lover
Second set: Tower of Song, Suzanne, Chelsea Hotel #2, Waiting For The Miracle, Anyhow, The Partisan, Alexandra Leaving, I’m Your Man, Hallelujah, Take This Waltz
Encore: So Long, Marianne, Going Home, First We Take Manhatten
Encore: Famous Blue Raincoat, If It Be Your Will, Closing Time
Encore: I Tried To Leave You
• Photo: Pete Purnell