Concert Reviews

Last night: Leonard Cohen at Red Rocks

Leonard Cohen
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Better Than:
Cohen probably was fifteen years ago.

Something must have happened to Leonard Cohen these past several years, because the performance the man gave on Thursday was stronger, more confident and even better developed than he has often sounded on his records. At the outset, the ten-piece group, including Cohen, were dressed in dark colors and many were wearing hats. The show began immediately with "Dance Me to the End of Love," and it was obvious that Cohen had lost none of his emotive powers as a singer. If anything, he was able to hit incredibly low notes, especially during "In My Secret Life," that were a marvel to witness.

Before a song or three, Cohen performed spoken-word pieces that sometimes began with interactions with the audience. And it was there, and with a number of songs, that Cohen exercised his ability to mix the profane and the sublime into a transcendent poetry. Clearly the show was well rehearsed, but somehow Cohen has a way of conveying his sincerity in every moment. Even when, between songs, he would joke with the audience, you had the feeling that a wise and old friend that understands you was not having a chuckle at your expense, but at the gently absurd moments that life often brings us in good spells, bad patches and everything in between. At risk of sounding like someone swept up in the power of the moment, Cohen and his band created moments of sublime beauty that made the lasciviously profane lyrics of "Chelsea Hotel #2" seem holy in comparison to that average slab of pop confection you'll hear on the radio.

After the first hour or so of music closed with "Anthem," the band took a short break, and Cohen could be seen skipping off the stage like a kid. The second set began with "Tower of Song," and it struck me how it seemed that the first set was mere warm-up for Cohen especially, but also for the group in general. The energy level was higher, and Sharon Robinson sang "Boogie Street" alone with Cohen standing back and giving her the spotlight. The whole show could have ended with "Take This Waltz," but there was such enthusiasm in the crowd that Cohen and company came back on for extended encore of seven songs, beginning with "So Long Marianne" and, perhaps partly in a good-natured jest, even if it was planned, "I Tried to Leave You." For the encore, Cohen's energy level was even higher, and at 25 songs, there was no doubt that he was generous not just with his energy but in his incredibly sincere and gracious thanks to everyone involved once the performance ended.

Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias:
Cohen's records got me through some rough times.
Random Detail: Nathaniel Rateliff went to this show before playing his own show at the hi-dive the same night.
By the Way: Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson knows where to find the fountain of youth.

Leonard Cohen
Set List - Red Rocks Amphitheatre

First Set
Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
There Ain't No Cure For Love
Bird on a Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel #2
Waiting for the Miracle

Second Set
Tower of Song
Sisters of Mercy
The Partisan
Boogie Street (vocals by Sharon Robinson)
I'm Your Man
Take This Waltz

So Long Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will (vocals mostly by Charley and Hattie Webb)
Closing Time
I Tried to Leave You

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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