Ladies and gentlemen, Leonard Cohen.
Fifteen years since his last tour, and 24 years since I saw him in Perth on the Various Positions tour, Leonard Cohen opened this Australian tour at the Rochford Winery for Day on the Green. Think of it as the Big Day Out for the over 40s.
His band was simply magnificent. The arrangements were all about respect for the songs and the singer. Virtuoso players were kept on a firm leash by the musical director Roscoe Beck, himself deftly working over a five-string bass throughout. But the stand-out (besides Cohen obviously), was Javier Mas. You can see Mas here playing 12-string with Sharon Robinson, Cohen's collaborator and vocalist on this tour.
There is something European and decidely non-rock and roll about Cohen's songs. The language of his music often seems to be the cast-off idioms of gentle waltzes, cabaret and torch and in this he was brilliantly aided.
Leonard Cohen has forty years of songwriting and he picked the eyes out of them in a perfectly paced set. Highlights were a wonderful reading of Bird on a Wire, the spoken word If it Be Your Will, the sweet satisfaction of Democracy and I'm Your Man. But there were so many highlights that I'm merely lining up my own. I don't thing I've ever seen an artist receive so many standing ovations. It was just spontaneous and sincere. (Also, no Bono!)
The tour is all about recovering the financial losses inflicted by a shonky manager. Five million short in the retirement fund is a compelling reason to perform live again. That may well be so but I wonder if there is also something about showing off the tapestry of a long and interesting career. As I type this I can almost hear Neil Young at the real Big Day Out where my stepson has gone. Ragged glory was never Cohen's way.
And yet this wasn't merely about trotting out the big moments. He wasn't doing cover versions of himself, a victory lap for the benefit of baby-boomers. (Even though his appeal is mostly to the boomers, there is plenty for everyone.) Yes, the show was slick and the set list in the Yarra Valley is the same as in Amsterdam or Auckland. But even at 74 he pushed his voice hard, gave the songs all the care they demanded and showed that he remains a rare and valuable artist.