Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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Leonard Cohen calls down angels in the palace of Caesar

Set list

  • Dance Me To The End Of Love
  • The Future
  • Ain't No Cure For Love
  • Bird On The Wire
  • Everybody Knows
  • In My Secret Life
  • Who By Fire
  • Chelsea Hotel No. 2
  • Waiting For The Miracle
  • Anthem
  • Tower Of Song
  • Suzanne
  • Sisters of Mercy
  • The Gypsy's Wife
  • The Other Blues Song
  • The Darkness
  • The Partisan
  • Boogie Street (Sharon Robinson solo)
  • Hallelujah
  • I'm Your Man
  • A Thousand Kisses Deep (spoken)
  • Take This Waltz
  • So Long, Marianne
  • First We Take Manhattan
  • Famous Blue Raincoat
  • If It Be Your Will (featuring the Webb Sisters)
  • Closing Time
  • I Tried To Leave You

If heaven has a house band, you can be sure Leonard Cohen will lead it.

But heaven will have to wait.

The 75-year-old poet laureate of women, wine and song performed an unlikely Las Vegas miracle Thursday night, turning The Colosseum at Caesars Palace into a sacred temple, with his songs of love, loss and longing serving as soundtrack to some sort of spiritual celebration.

Three songs into the show, Cohen sang that he had heard angels declare: "Ain't no cure for love." As light burned through the stage's flowing white curtain, I was not only willing to believe him -- I was hearing them myself. Ask anyone in the house. It was that kind of night.

Cohen, dressed in a sharp suit befitting a gangster, put in a Springsteen-worthy performance, playing for more than three hours, with a 25-minute break between sets. Shortly after 8 p.m., he bounded onto the stage, doffed his fedora to the audience and launched into "Dance Me To The End Of Love," kneeling before guitarist Javier Mas for a pseudo serenade. A few minutes later, during "The Future," Cohen tapped his toes, locked his knees together and executed what looked like a brief moonwalk.

A superb nine-piece band, led by bassist Roscoe Beck and including drummer Rafael Gayol, guitarists Mas and Bob Metzger, reed player Dino Soldo and organist Neil Larsen, provided a canvas for Cohen to paint his words upon.

"We've played some unlikely places, and I don't know when we'll pass through this way again," Cohen told the crowd. "But it is our intention to give you everything we have tonight."

That was 22 songs over two sets and a three-part, six-song encore, encompassing, as Cohen once put it, everything from "the latest hit to the wisdom of old." After a 15-year hiatus, Cohen clearly enjoyed being back in the spotlight, clenching his fist to his chest as he sang, "take one last look at this sacred heart before it blows" in "Everybody Knows."

Visibly looser in the second set, he donned an acoustic guitar and played two new songs, one of which could hint at the trouble that spurred his surprise world tour.

In 2005, he sued his former manager and lover, alleging she had misappropriated millions from his retirement fund. In the bluesy "The Darkness," Cohen sings:

"I should have seen the darkness It was right behind your eyes All those pools so deep and heartless I just had to take a dive Yeah but winning you was easy But the darkness was the price."

Still, the mood in the room was anything but dark. Cohen and the band were often bathed in white light, offering exultations to the heavens. "Hallelujah" was, well, a revelation. Cohen dropped to his knees, singing, "I tell the truth, I did not come to the palace of Caesar to fool you." The crowd went nuts. Cohen seemed genuinely humbled by the response. Returning from intermission, he told the crowd: "Thank you for not going back to the casino."

Special praise to backup singer and collaborator Sharon Robinson, who sang a riveting solo rendition of "Boogie Street," and the Webb sisters, Charley and Hattie, who dueted on "If It Be Your Will," complete with harp. If the band could be faulted for anything, it's Soldo's intensity. The wind player, while excellent, strayed into Kenny G country too often.

During the encore, he danced and galloped off the stage -- and skipped back for more, his deep, gravelly bass-baritone sounding stronger than ever. Comically, he returned to the stage for the third time to finish with "I Tried To Leave You."

To paraphrase Cohen, that was one hell of a way to say goodbye.

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