The backdrop for the performance added a certain elegance. The white drapes, which perfectly reflected whatever colors of light were projected onto them, enhanced the visual impact of the band. While the performance was commanding enough on its own, the tasteful use of lighting made it feel like we were at some kind of after-hours jazz club seeing a legendary artist giving an intimate performance.
Adding to that sensation was the fact that Cohen's voice was prominent in the mix. It genuinely felt like he was speaking and singing directly to you. The quiet confidence the guy exuded was impressive, and his deft use of playfully sardonic dry humor made us all laugh at exactly the right moments.
Although the audience was clearly respectful, some people couldn't help but express their enthusiasm loudly at different points in the set. Nothing annoying, though. During a quiet passage in "Come Healing," you could hear a man say, with a heartfelt and childlike wonder, like he was especially struck by the moment, "This is a really good song." Indeed it was, especially this night. The first set ended with "Anthem," and Cohen introduced everyone in the band, including the woman whom he rightfully referred to as his collaborator, "the incomparable Sharon Robinson."
After the intermission, Cohen and crew came back on stage. Cohen had a keyboard in front of him, and he sarcastically announced he was going to play this machine that he wasn't sure any of us had seen anything like before. When he played a very simple piano part, the crowd cheered. At this, Cohen smiled and said, "Thank you, music lovers." A guy who can poke fun at himself and rib the audience a little in the process and still look cool and gracious about it? Not to mention making you laugh with him because he's having a chuckle with us and himself and not at the expense of either? Genius.
For "Anyhow," Cohen displayed his gift for delivering the most bawdy and earthy lines, well shy of crass, in a way that was poetic, gracious and even dignified. It was like a close friend just laying out observations that shouldn't be tender and endearing, but the tone and spirit in which those words are spoken make them so. Following this with "Democracy," Cohen had us wondering what could possibly come after that. Little did we know the show was only a little bit past the halfway mark.
The only thing that could really follow "Democracy" were two songs that showcased the other main singers of the night, starting with the Webb sisters doing a disarmingly gorgeous duet in "Coming Back to You." Then Robinson put in a strong, soulful, moving performance of "Alexandra Leaving."
Not just for this song, but elsewhere, it was impressive to see a singer with a background like she has to use so many vocal tricks at once in a way that didn't overdo anything. Her vibrato? Masterful in its versatility and tastefulness. Sure, for most of the show, Robinson kind of took a side, not back, seat to Cohen, but she's also one of the few singers around whose own perfect phrasing is on par with her collaborator's.