Leonard Cohen: Live In Dublin

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Leonard Cohen
Live in Dublin
(Columbia/Legacy)
5 out of 5 stars

Concerts by veteran musicians, even ones as respected as Leonard Cohen, don’t get any classier than this. The 80 year old singer/songwriter says more with a momentary raised eyebrow, a dip down to one knee or a tip of his trademarked black fedora than Mick Jagger does in a show of frantic dashing around an enormous stage.

This 3CD/1DVD or Blu-ray set captures Cohen, his remarkably talented 6 piece band and a trio of female backup singers in a full 2 ½ hour performance in front of an adoring Dublin audience. The video of one entire Sept. 2013 gig is recorded with high definition cameras and edited with a subtle precision. Cohen’s reflective, occasionally somber, consistently intriguing music and poetry wouldn’t be nearly as powerful with the typical fast cut style so often used on live DVDs. Instead this is edited with a slow, sure hand. Cameras linger on Cohen’s still handsome and expressive face, fixating on the band members during solos and occasionally hovering over the proceedings to capture the action from behind the stage looking into the audience. It truly provides the viewer with the best seat in the house.

Cohen is in a spirited, frisky mood, bounding onto the stage, doing short dances, smiling at his backup players, and engaging with the audience as he ambles through a sprawling 29 song set that includes almost everything anyone would want to hear  (although “Sisters of Mercy” is MIA) from a catalog that stretches back to 1968’s “Bird on a Wire.” The musicians and singers are all dressed, like Cohen, in sharp black suits and the simple yet enormously effective lights bathe the stage in deep blues, reds and greens. The singer’s distinctive baritone, dry yet emotive talk/singing style and the crystal clear recording quality focuses attention on his dynamic, sometimes humorous, always poetic lyrics. The interplay with his three backup singers also brings depth and a sensuality often lacking from the studio versions, making some of these laconic and extended performances definitive. Like his 2009 Live in London CD/DVD, which had a similar presentation with many of the same songs and arrangements, a few spoken word segments modify the flow.

Musically, the Canadian born Cohen combines blues, jazz and folk along with strains of European and gypsy styles for a unique, elegant and diverse mix that makes the perfect foundation for his words and presentation. He is also generous with the spotlight, giving extended time to his world class musicians (string instrument virtuoso Javier Mas is particularly impressive) longtime partner Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters whose angelic voices mesh as one. The only non-Cohen composition is a closing cover of “Save the Last Dance for Me,” played with all the bittersweet melancholy often obscured in other versions. It caps off a remarkably vivacious and career encompassing evening that sets a new standard for capturing icons like Cohen who rely on restrained intricacies in texture and nuance to communicate their art.

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