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Friday, August 1, 2014

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Leonard Cohen puts on a stellar performance

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Leonard Cohen

Men of his age and perhaps dotage are settling into retirement, winding down to pursue hobbies, spend winters in Florida, travel to exotic locales and renew relationships with children and childhood friends.

Troubadour Leonard Cohen, Canada’s internationally recognized man of words, defies this kind of facile conformist categorization.

Well into his 70s, he is still belting out searing songs of love, loss, yearning and retrospection, winning new fans and satisfying old ones in the process.

Last week, at the cavernous Air Canada Centre, where the slap of hockey pucks and the bounce of basketballs are normally heard, Cohen was in high performance mode, stopping in Toronto for two nights on his Old Ideas North American concert tour.

He didn’t quite fill the auditorium, his star power notwithstanding, but the place felt full as a roar of approval rose up from the audience as he bounded on to the stage and approached the microphone.

The crowd, almost evenly divided between aging baby boomers and millennials and generation Xers, was a microcosm of Cohen’s diverse fan base.

Cohen, a son of Montreal, was nattily dressed in a dark suit and a fedora as he launched into his first number, Dance Me to the End of Love.

He sang in his trademark style, a low, growling whisper that was at once intimate and distant

Basking in the thunderous ovation, and lit up by two powerful spotlights cutting through the darkness, Cohen thanked everyone for the warm welcome.

“We’ve been on the road for quite a while,” he said in reference to the tour that ends later this month.

Sounding a plaintive note of mortality, he added, “We may or may not see each other again.”

As if to assuage fans who fear they may never see him again, he said, “I promise you we’ll give you everything we’ve got.”

With that, a middle-aged woman next to me burst out, “Even at 78, he’s sexy.”

As he performed the next few songs, accompanied by a chorus of three women in black outfits with lovely voices, Cohen dropped to his knees occasionally and knelt on a carpet in apparent supplication.

Between songs, he removed his fedora, revealing a lined and sensitive face, and introduced the members of his band, hailing from all corners of the world.

His rendition of Everybody Knows, which he expressly wrote for the Canadian film Exotica, was pitch perfect, an ode to his talent as a published poet.

“Everybody knows the dice are loaded/ Everybody knows the fight is fixed/ Everybody knows the boat is leaking.”

“Love you, Leonard,” an anonymous woman shouted out in near delerium.  

After a 20-minute intermission, Cohen was back in full-throated flight, singing perennial favourites such as Ain’t No cure for Love and Suzanne.

Cohen, his aura as a legendary ladies man shining through, continually harped on his advancing years.

“I’m old, but I’m still into that, a 1,000 kisses deep,” he said slyly in a knowing nod to one of his songs.

Still later, he crooned, “I ache in the places I used to play.” And then, in a tacit confession, he moaned, “I’d like to hold you, baby, but my arms are old and weak.”

Cohen’s ability to connect was on display yet again when he performed the classic, I’m Your Man.

“I’ll step into the rain for you/ I will steal for you/ I’ll disappear for you/ If you want a lover, I’ll do anything you ask for.”

With the three-hour concert reaching its finale, Cohen injected new life into Hallelujah, one of his signature tunes.

“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” he said, finishing his last number in strong and indefatigable fashion. “I do so appreciate it.”

He returned for an encore, prompting rapturous applause for a Canadian icon.

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