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Review: Leonard Cohen

Wembley Arena

    Ten years after he came down from his mountain-top Buddhist monastery, Leonard Cohen embarked, for financial reasons, on a series of concert tours whose astonishing success must have exceeded even his wildest expectations. From Tel Aviv to Tokyo, he plundered his back catalogue and played to ecstatic critics and audiences.

    Last weekend he was back again with a two-night stint at Wembley Arena, this time promoting his latest album, Old Ideas. Call me jaundiced, but money may still be his prime motive, what with programmes at £15 and Leonard Cohen cufflinks at £40.

    But the audience — undoubtedly the oldest ever to grace Wembley for a rock concert — was primarily composed of the faithful, and did not care.

    More offputting was the fact that the entire show appeared so tightly scripted that there was little or no room for spontaneity. Thus I heard with some disappointment him making, on Sunday night, the identical apologies for the last-minute change of venue that I had read of him making on the previous evening.

    In much the same way, his occasional songwriting collaborator, Sharon Robinson, is always “incomparable” while his singers, the Webb Sisters, are always “the sublime Hattie and Charlie Webb”. (Sublime indeed, but for some bizarre reason, performing synchronised somersaults on stage.)

    But we had not come for the chat, but for the music. Effectively this was a reprise of the 2009 tour with three unfamiliar songs from the new album bolted on. The audience politely endured the new material and rapturously applauded the classics.

    But it was a truly astonishing set for a man of nearly 78, delivering more than 30 songs in three hours, backed by a brilliant band, each member of which sported Cohen’s trademark fedora.
    Best of all was the haunting The Partisan, sung in French and English. For this the entire ensemble moved forward on the stage, each playing an instrument — a gripping musical masterclass. Worth the price of admission alone.

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