The enormous outpouring of goodwill towards Leonard Cohen over the last few years in the media and from devoted fans means that his latest Australian tour should be subject to intense critical scrutiny. Lenny’s back touring at the grand old age of 76, playing to the biggest crowds of a career that began in 1967 and saw him left almost penniless after a former manager diddled him out of his retirement fund. Thus Australian fans are treated to his second tour here in less than two years, with over 30,000 tickets sold to just his three Victorian shows.

Assessing this gig with any objectivity, however, is somewhat futile. Leonard Cohen is just THAT good. Even in the sterile environs of Rod Laver Arena, the lengthy performance gives even us mere mortals up in the nosebleed section a sense of intimacy and a feeling at the end of the show that we’d all individually taken communion with the man. Although never having had a hit single of his own, the performance is replete with some of the best examples of modern song writing and each a lesson in the art of writing a tune that delves deep into the human psyche.

Joined on stage by a crack team of musicians and backing vocalists, the musicianship is exquisite and the sound almost pristine. On stage Cohen shows that you can indeed age gracefully while continuing a stellar music career. Joined on classical guitar duties by Spanish flamenco whizz Javier Mas, Cohen shows that his almost 20 years away from performing live made him no less adept at plucking the Spanish guitar.

The show is halted for an interval which strangely does not affect the vibe; if anything it increases anticipation for the second set. The line ‘You told me you fancied handsome men but would make an exception for me’ in ‘Chelsea Hotel’ draws a roar from the otherwise sedate crowd, while ‘Suzanne’ is mesmerising. Cohen effortlessly shifts to a mandolin, while the cabaret stylings of ‘I’m Your Man’ prompt spontaneous crowd cheering.

Although Cohen was beaten in the definitive performance of ‘Hallelujah’ by Jeff Buckley, tonight it is almost as transcendental, with Cohen stooping to his knees in front of the adoring crowd, many whom could be forgiven for getting misty eyed. His spoken word delivery of ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ entrances the crowd, offering a master class in how to hold a stadium crowd in reverential silence.

Cohen may need to rest more than most touring musicians but he is still sprightly, bounding on stage as a first encore opens with ‘So Long, Maryanne’, the lyrics dripping like honey off his tonsils into the concrete cavern. ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ and ‘First We Take Manhattan’ round out the first encore, before a second one delivers ‘I Tried To Leave You’ and ‘Closing Time’ to a crowd that needs no urging to give him a standing ovation.

– Jim Murray