Leonard Cohen was 78 years old when I saw him in concert. It was the final show of his world tour, which had lasted a total of six years. The concert took place in December of 2012, on a humid evening in Auckland, New Zealand. I would see many more concerts in my lifetime, but none would possess the magic that Leonard brought to the stage that night.
Leonard was an incredible poet. This is evident to anyone who has listened to his music, and it translated live in the most compelling way: It didn’t feel like we were at a concert. We could have been huddled around the campfire, listening to our favorite storyteller, waiting with bated breath for the next chapter in his story.
From the minute he stepped out on stage, Leonard’s youthfulness was evident. Was it his art, that kept him so full of life all these years? Perhaps. Bright-eyed and sprightly, Leonard resembled something of a lyrical wizard, conjuring up beautiful prose which danced on the tip of his tongue. Then his deep, raspy voice flooded the stadium, “a thousand kisses deep” sending shivers down my spine…
His live band was sensational, presenting a flawless performance. The “sublime Webb sisters” as Leonard introduced them, serenaded us on the harp and guitar for a haunting interpretation of “If It Be Your Will”. They took us through all the classics, of course, including “So Long Marianne” and “Hallelujah”, all which sounded even better live.
The best part was, sometimes Leonard would drop down onto his knees while he was reciting a verse. To this day I still have this image of him etched in my mind — huddled over into little ball, crooning out the last verse of “Dance Me to the End of Love” (“dance me to your beauty with a burning violin”).Leonard was in a beautiful trance. He didn’t care what he looked like. He was there to deliver a message. To reach us through song. He took us out of our heads, and helped us forget about our mundane lives. He laughed and we laughed, he wept and we wept, he held us all in the palm of his hand…
And to top it all off, Leonard came across as such a warm and genuine human being. He was humble, thanking his band numerous times throughout the night. Six encores later (yes, really) the crowd was going absolutely nuts and I knew that I had seen a legend.
There is no faking it when it comes to performing in front of a live audience. They know what’s real, and what is not. And when it is authentic, and a message cuts through – there is nothing else quite like it. Storytellers save us from ourselves. We are lucky to have had Leonard Cohen in our lifetime. And now that he has passed, we have his songs to remember him by.