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Concert Reviews:
Leonard Cohen Brings His "Tower Of Song" To The Fox Theatre

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2009

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DETROIT -- There are certainly those who sing Leonard Cohen's songs prettier and with more technical proficiency. That much has been made clear by hundreds of covers recorded by other artists over the years, as well as by an assortment of high-profile tribute albums.

But there's nothing quite like hearing the artist perform his own work, which is what made the celebrated Canadian-born singer, writer and poet's generous performance Saturday night (May 9) at the Fox Theatre such a genuine treat.

As part of his first concert tour in 15 years -- "I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream," he cracked -- Cohen dove deeply and broadly into his 42-year canon of music, covering 25 songs over the course of nearly three (plus intermission) with a gentle and genial grace and humility. That this tour is partly necessitated by personal financial issues did not at all dampen the proceedings; rather, Cohen and his nine onstage compatriots reveled in a rich catalog of material, delivering one captivating performance after another of his pointed and, after all these years, still potent philosophical observations about romance, relationships, politics and mortality.

And, amidst all that, the proverbial good time WAS had by all. Cohen, dapper in a dark suit, gray shirt and Fedora -- and in far better voice than his sometimes his reputation -- made each entrance and exit with a giddy skip and warm smile. He doffed his hat to acknowledge each of the virtuoso soloists in the band -- and the occasional athletic feat, like when sister backup singers Charley and Hattie Webb turned cartwheels to accompany the "white man dancing" reference in "The Future." And Cohen frequently sang on one or both knees, a gesture of surrender to the music and appreciative respect to the audience that seemed as heartfelt as it was theatrical.

The highlights were plentiful -- and, it would be fair to say, included every single song. But among those that stood out the most were a soulful rendition of "Ain't No Cure For Love," a taut arrangement of "Bird on a Wire" that left space for solos by guitarist Bob Metzger and woodwindist Dino Soldo, the gypsy ambience of "Everybody Knows" which spotlighted Javier Mas' flamenco-styled picking, a lush "Chelsea Hotel," stirring deliveries of "Anthem" and "First We Take Manhattan," and an epic version of "Hallelujah." "Tower of Song" and "Suzanne" received stark, stripped-down treatments to open the show's second half, while longtime Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson took the lead vocal on "Boogie Street."

"I Tried to Leave You," positioned in the final encore, made a pleasantly wry comment on the show's length, and bringing not just the band but also crew members downstage for a mostly a capella "Whither Thou Goest" made for a classy, communal and uplifting conclusion.

There's no saying if Cohen will make his way back on the road after his current sojourn; at his age..., as they say. But on Saturday left us with a performance to remember and a testament to the simple power of a songwriter singing his own songs.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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