Last night was something of a homecoming for Leonard Cohen.
He has spoken often of how moved he was by the reception he received when he first played the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, in 2008. That show marked the start of a remarkable comeback: Cohen has toured almost constantly since.
Cohen took the stage, as scheduled, at 7.15pm. He fell to one knee, as if in prayer, as he led off with Dance Me to the End of the Love. He followed that with The Future, one of his bleakest songs. “When they said repent, repent, repent, I wondered what they meant,” he sang, swaying gently in the chill September air.
“Thanks so much, friends. Thank you for sitting in the cold and damp to hear my melancholy songs,” he said, in one of those brief monologues so beloved of his audiences. He remarked on how, when he plays Dublin, he is allowed to drink inside (“I am rarely asked to leave the pub”), to sleep inside (“sadly, I am rarely woken from my slumbers anymore”), but is always asked to sing outside.
“Do you compel your Irish singers to perform outside as well?” he asked mischievously. “Is that why the Irish voice is so strong and sweet?”
Over the next hour or so, he sang many of his classics, among them Bird on the Wire and Who By Fire?.
“It’s such a privilege to be here, when so much of the world is plunged into darkness and despair,” Cohen said, by way of introducing Ring the Bells, with its refrain: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Cohen introduced his band — among them his songwriting partner, “the incomparable Sharon Robinson” and his other backing singers, Patti and Charlie, “the sublime Webb sisters” – before retiring for a short break before 9pm.
Cohen returned wrapped in a scarf. “Thank you, friends. Thank you for not leaving,” he said, before launching into Tower of Song. He played a simple but effective solo on the keyboard, and the crowd cheered. “You ain’t heard nothing yet,” he quipped.
Cohen accompanied himself on guitar on Suzanne, and played jew’s harp on a positively jaunty Democracy. This was followed by the mighty Hallelujah, So Long Marianne and Closing Time. Cohen’s set extended to over three hours, and confirmed that he is, at a sprightly 77, about the best live act on the planet.
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