5:02 PM GMT 17/05/2013
Well, MOJO has found out his secret. We can exclusively reveal what fuels Leonard Cohen's 2012 tour. The magical elixir that enables the 78-year-old legend to sprint onstage, fall to his knees, get up again, sing for three and a half hours and still dance back out of the wings for more is... PG Tips. Backstage at Bass Hall in Austin, Texas, in a corner of the dressing room, there are boxes of Britain's staple beverage, stacked up high, looking like the product of a looting spree at Tesco's. Perhaps Cohen sits scross-legged under the famously pyramid-shaped tea-bags in order to meditate. But one thing for certain is that he's looking even younger and sounding even stronger than he did on his remarkable 2008-2010 trek.
It's Halloween, the first night of two sold-out concerts in Austin (where on another Halloween night, almost a quarter of a century ago, he played his fabled, TV-broadcast Austin City Limits concert). It's also the first night of his North American tour. There's a bunch of people in the crowd who appear to have come to the concert as Cohen - I don't think I've ever seen so many Texans in fedoras - who is dressed, immaculately as ever, in a black suit, a grey shirt (buttoned-up, no tie) and hat tipped down low, à la Rat Pack, over his forehead. From my fourth row seat - and for those less fortunate, on the giant screen - you can see a twinkle in his eye.
On the 2008-2010 tour, there were some reviewers who likened his shows to Papal visits, and you could see what they were getting at - the hushed rooms, the sense of a rite performed, a fellowship of the faithful. You still can hear a feather drop when the band starts up a song, and there are still moments when the hairs stand up on your arms. But, despite the implied valediction of the line he uses at every concert on this tour - that he doesn't know if/when he'll pass this way again but they're going to give it all they've got - he looks instead like he can keep going forever, or at least until the PG Tips runs out.
There were 31 songs tonight - two of them covers, the rest Leonard's own. A couple of changes to the Wembley setlist, but then that differed slightly from the first concerts in Ghent. The second concert in Austin would also be a little different - evidence of him feeling more comfortable this time around, perhaps. He certainly seems more comfortable playing a guitar, which shows in the choice of material, leaning less heavily than before on the big-production synthesiser songs.
It's also evident in the decision to hire a violin player for this tour, Alexandru Bublitchi - the only line-up change bar guitarist Mitch Watkins, who played with Leonard (and Roscoe Beck) back on the 1979-1980 Recent Songs tour, and who's taken over from Bob Metzger. The violin, no surprise, fits right in - lovely in the lead-in to Come Healing, beautiful on Who By Fire (which starts out with a jaw-dropping 12-string solo by Javier Mas) and, on Heart With No Companion, where it's played like a country fiddle.
So many highlights. The Gypsy's Wife, just stunning. The Partisan, a song Leonard first learned at summer camp at the age of 15. Coming Back To You, Leonard reciting the first verse and the Webb Sisters singing it, at first a capella, then as part of a harp-guitar-acoustic bass trio off to the left. Sharon Robinson's lead, on Alexandra Leaving, earns her a standing ovation. In I'm Your Man, Leonard adds, "I'll wear a Halloween mask for you," to the full service he offers the women. In Take This Waltz, he dances a waltz with an imaginary partner, with more than a little Fred Astaire.
The evening began with a dance - Dance Me To The End Of Love - and, as part of a six-song encore, it ends with one too, The Drifters' Save The Last Dance for Me. From Austin, he'll be dancing his way out West, then up to Canada, crossing the country before closing in New York five days before Christmas.
By Sylvie Simmons
Watch Leonard Cohen's biographer Sylvie Simmons team up with Cohen's band at the Cactus Café in Austin for an evening of words and music entitled Leonard Cohen: A Life In Art. Features songs from Sharon Robinson (Alexandra Leaving), the Webb Sisters (Show Me The Place; Coming Back To You) and a beautiful instrumental version of Seems So Long Ago, Nancy.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 3:30 PM GMT 16/11/2012