Leonard Cohen

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Photo by John Anderson

Leonard Cohen

The Long Center, April 1 & 2

With Leonard Cohen back onstage in 2009, approaching 75, there's a serendipitous sense of purpose. The poet and musician should be meditating on a mountaintop somewhere, drawing nudes and writing his memoirs, but rectifying a criminal business situation has put him back on a quest for enlightenment late in his 40-year career. The Canadian singer-songwriter looked at peace last Wednesday night at the Long Center, in Austin for the first time since 1993. A handsome suit wrapped his small frame, topped by a hat he removed often. He was limber, dropping to his knee, skipping on- and offstage. In Cohen's world, his fashionably dressed backup singers do cartwheels, and there's a Fellini-esque element of ceremony, both divine and humorous. His ninepiece band, including the backup vocals of Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson in unison with the Webb Sisters, largely veered away from jazz-lite schmaltz, though a few arrangements fell under its sway. Virtuosic Spanish guitarist Javier Mas painted "The Gypsy's Wife" with sad tones; bassist Roscoe Beck and fellow Austinite/drummer Rafael Gayol kept impeccable time under "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Bird on the Wire," and "Everybody Knows." Hearing "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" and "So Long, Marianne" from his 1967 debut, as well as chestnuts "Tower of Song," "Famous Blue Raincoat," and "Hallelujah," proved spellbinding in the face of Cohen's still-immaculate baritone. Thursday night the crowd was more boisterous. The nearly three-hour set, roughly the same songs as the night before but in different order, drew out quite a few tears and multiple standing ovations. A recitation of his poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep" was breathtaking, and for "If It Be Your Will," Cohen stood completely still, eyes closed as the Webb Sisters sang in his place. Enlightenment had been attained.

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