Arts: Cohen gives a performance to remember

First, we take Kilmainham...

First, we take Kilmainham...

Leonard Cohen at the Royal Hospital , Kilmainham in Dublin September 15.

“This is our last night in Ireland and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got” promised Leonard Cohen. Over three and a half magical hours later, few could doubt that Cohen and his band had lived up to that promise.

Sharp-suited and sharp on time, Cohen appeared on stage at 7:15pm and opened with ‘Dance me to the end of Love’. This was followed by ‘The Future’ before Cohen took his deep voice even lower and sang ‘Bird on a Wire’ with a deep melodic growl.

Backed by a virtuoso band, Cohen sang over thirty songs in total, including six from his latest album ‘Old Ideas’. These fitted seamlessly alongside classics from a career that has spanned six decades.

The new songs are impressive; particularly ‘Darkness’, with Cohen’s world-weary and fatalistic lyrics backed by bluesy organ in a style reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s 1997 album, ‘Time out of Mind’.

But there the similarities with Dylan ended. Whilst Dylan’s vocal performances have become increasingly impenetrable in recent years years, Cohen’s delivery is more clear and precise than ever and the musical arrangements and sound mixing give prominence to the vocals. Every syllable of every word was audible and sung with an emotional intensity that made the old songs sound fresh and the new songs sound like classics.

Cohen will be 78 on 21 September, and this was his fourth Dublin concert in five days. If he was tired he didn’t show it. The show did allow for a little recuperation time: Javier Mas played an exquisite extended guitar introduction to ‘Who by Fire’, the backing singers The Webb Sisters performed a song, and Cohen’s sometime co-writer Sharon Robinson’s sang ‘Alexandra Leaving’.

The finale to the main part of the show saw Cohen effortlessly reclaim ‘Hallelujah’ from numerous X-Factor wannabes before finishing with ‘Take This Waltz’.

Cohen and the band returned for a two-song encore: ‘So Long Marianne’ – which became the singalong anthem of the night - and ‘First We Take Manhattan’. Cohen then bows to the crowd, lifts his hat, waves his arm behind in a slow arc in recognition of the band and dances off the stage. Moments later he skips back on for a second encore and dons a guitar for ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’.

The next song, ‘Closing Time’ is the last of the evening and Cohen brings the crew onstage to share the applause. Then, after warm words of thanks to the audience, there is a final wave and a bow, and the world’s coolest seventy-seven-year-old jogs off the stage.