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Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 at 09:13 AM

Leonard Cohen thrills KeyArena crowd with long concert

By Paul de Barros
Seattle Times music critic

Concert review |

"I've told the truth," said 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, near the end of his thrilling, packed concert at KeyArena Friday. "I did not come to fool you."

Or he made his best attempt, at least, as poets do, wrangling with the language of love and salvation — word by word, chord by chord, rhyme by rhyme.

It was an extraordinary experience, a full-body immersion in the personal universe of a great troubadour who, like his Provençal forebears, fearlessly conflates the sacred and the profane, the courtly and the spiritual the erotic and the fatalistic.

Speak-singing in a conspiratorial, basso whisper, Cohen performed two voluminous sets lasting more than three-and-a-half hours.

Wearing his trademark fedora and dark, tight suit with bolo tie, Cohen played with a nine-piece, Euro-style ensemble featuring violin, two guitars, rhythm section and three backup singers. He often knelt as he sang and occasionally saluted the crowd by jauntily doffing his hat.

The moody stage lighting often silhouetted the behatted band.

Cohen sampled generously from his gloomy four-decade-plus oeuvre, starting with the infectious 'Dance Me to the End Love" and quickly dispensing with such classics as "Bird on a Wire," "Everybody Knows," "Ain't No Cure For Love," "In My Secret Life" and a spine-tingling recitation of "A Thousand Kisses Deep."

Other high points included his incantatory first hit, "Suzanne"; the hilariously unrepentant "Anyhow"; Democracy," which drew a cheer from the post-election-wired crowd (mostly boomers, including some cuddling couples); and "I'm Your Man."

Cohen generously showcased backup singers the Webb sisters, who delivered shimmering harmonies on "If It Be Your Will," and co-writer Sharon Robinson on the gospel-tinged "Alexandra Leaving."

Prancing offstage near the end, then back again, Cohen shared the singalong-friendly "Take This Waltz" and "So Long, Marianne," then delivered two encores that included the dark and driven "First We Take Manhattan"; the yearning "Famous Blue Raincoat"; his whimsical self-reprimand from on high, "Going Home" ("I'd love to speak with Leonard, he's a lazy bastard"); and, finally, appropriately, "Closing Time."

You had the feeling Cohen would have sung willingly into the after-hours. The crowd would have stayed, too.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com


STEPHEN LOVEKIN / GETTY IMAGES
Leonard Cohen wore his trademark fedora at KeyArena Friday.




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