Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Hoot & Holler, or Shout Hallelujah:

Leonard Cohen rapturous at Barclay Center

by Jamie Frey

I’d think it would be safe to say that 2012 was the year of the codger. Among the many best-of-the-year lists in current circulation, you can find: (55 year old) Bob Pollard’s Guided By Voices, (63 year old) Bruce Springsteen, (64 yr old) Jimmy Cliff, (65 yr old) Patti Smith, (67 year old) Neil Young's fierce tour and new album with Crazy Horse, (68 year old) Bobby Womack, (70 yr old) Brian Wilson’s reunited Beach Boys, and (71 yr old) Bob Dylan, whose inspired Tempest may be the result of early onset dementia. The king of the alta-cockers would be Leonard Cohen, who at 78 released Old Ideas, an album which finds the Jewish-Buddhist poet at his most dark, cool and classic. When he took the stage at Barclay’s with his six piece band and trio of lady backup singers for some songs of love and hate, no one was expecting the septuagenarian to treat Brooklyn to a three-hour dive into one of the most intense songbooks in music.

Looking sharp as always, like the missing link between Tony Bennett and William. S. Burroughs, Cohen sauntered onstage to a gregarious amount of applause, followed by the audience sitting down and shutting the fuck up, thinking “let the man speak.” He broke into “Dance Me ToThe End Of Love”, the band thumping like a gospel group from the Church of Badalamenti, complete with a Lynchian backdrop reminiscent of Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge. His baritone croon has gotten darker and sweeter, and he very quickly took to his knees to sing, possibly as a dramatic effect, possibly as a religious reference.

Surprisingly, Cohen started bringing out the hits early on, with the bleak, German “The Future” and the classic lament “Bird On A Wire” (known by many through Joe Cocker’s inspired cover.) Cohen’s band, ever restrained for much of the set, leaving room for the poet’s masterful diction, stretched out to reveal tasteful and interesting players, including a flamenco guitarist from Barcelona, a jazzy, Manzarek-esque B-3 organ player and a Klezmir/Gypsy leaning fiddler. Standing out even further were the much featured backup singers, U.K.’s country-inflected Webb Sisters and soulful Sharon Robinson, an artist in her own right; they performed the sour stomp “Everybody Knows,” which Robinson co-wrote with Cohen.

“Sometimes I drag myself out of the bed, look at myself in the mirror and say ‘lighten up, Leonard.” For an artist who is almost parodied for his gloominess (“no one listens to me, I’m just like Leonard Cohen” goes the joke from BBC’s “The Young Ones”) and has never had a legit hit, Cohen was greeted with great warmth, which he returned. He is a far more passionate performer that you might assume from his records, showing none of the disaffected cool oozing off the cover of “Death Of A Ladies Man.” He was funny and thankful, giving off many a great quotable quips throughout the night. After a twenty minute intermission, Cohen returned solo with a synthesizer, playing/reciting the magnum opus “Tower Of Song,” which is kind of like the poet’s “My Way”:

Now I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back
There moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone
I'll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

This was hardly a farewell. Cohen packed his second set with hits and great cuts, grabbing an acoustic guitar for “Suzanne” and the brilliant “Chelsea Hotel #2,” in which he makes poetry out of oral sex with Janis Joplin and gives one of his greatest lines: “You told me again/You preferred handsome men/but for me you would make an exception.” He got vulnerable on the bossa-tingled “Lover Lover Lover” from the great New Skin For The Old Ceremony and on the grave but romantic “I’m Your Man.” By the time he got to “Hallelujah”, covered iconically by late 90’s ubermensch Jeff Buckley and the Velvet-less John Cale (as well as the Shrek-inspired Rufus Wainwright,) he was at least two hours into his show. Many left their seats after he played his most famous anthem, not realizing Leonard, approaching 80 further every second, would be back for two full encores.

When he returned to what was left of the crowd, he was full of kindness for the area of acolytes, launching into “So Long, Marianne,” his dry take on flower-power. (Is this song about Marianne Faithful?) His band got funky and Leonard brought out some dance moves on “First We Take Manhattan (Then We Take Berlin,)” finally bringing the seated, fixated crowd to their feet. By the time he walked off the stage, the intellectuals in the audience were getting up and shouting, which was not what I was expecting from the evening. Cohen’s body of work, written and recorded, speaks for itself; and though his songbook is the Iliad and Odyssey of sex, god and death, it is clearly a labor of love; his performance was the stuff of hoots and hollers, not cold and broken Hallelujahs. is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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