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Concert Reviews:
Leonard Cohen is sublime in Fox Theatre return
 

By GARY GRAFF
For Journal Register Newspapers

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DETROIT -- When Leonard Cohen last appeared at the Fox Theatre -- May 9, 2009 -- it was a revelation. Fourteen years off the road (longer than some artists have entire careers), and with an acknowledged reticence towards touring, the guy performed like he hadn't missed a day, delivering a disarmingly elegant and powerful show.

Returning on Monday night, Nov. 26, Cohen managed to equal that high standard -- and possibly even surpass it.

Early on the Canadian-born poet/songwriter/singer made his nightly promise that "tonight we're going to give you everything that we've got," and Cohen and his nine-piece band did just that with a 29-song exposition that weighed in at more than three hours of music, plus intermission, and hit a full range of intricately arranged highlights from throughout his 45-year recording career as well as five selections from his "Old Ideas" album, which came out in January.

It was again the details, both small and large, that made Cohen's show so special. He remained the consummate gentleman; some of his songs may run towards the darker sides of politics, sexuality and relationships (although those who think they're just depressing aren't listening closely enough), but his baritone rumble and sleek dark suit mitigated those themes with a sense of genteel decorum. He frequently sang on one knee, a minstrel offering a fair song for an honest wage (tickets ran up to $253.50), and he would doff his fedora or hold it over his heart as the instrumentalists and backing vocalists -- longtime cohort Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters duo -- took their spotlight moments.

Cohen was slyly self-effacing, too, offering a knowing grin at particularly deprecating lyrics and introducing one song by confessing that "sometimes...I tell myself, 'Lighten up, Cohen! Darkness and death? How long is it going to take to recover from the news there ain't no cure for love?' "

Meanwhile the favorites kept coming, each one seemingly better than the next, from the opening "Dance Me to the End" to muscular versions of "The Future" and "Everybody Knows" and gentle recitals of "Bird on the Wire" and "Amen" -- and that was just in the first half hour. Each song was its own highlight, and saying that "Anthem," a stripped-down "Tower of Song," a surprise addition of "The Guests," a richly rendered "Hallelujah," a rootsy "So Long, Marianne" and a pumping "First We Take Manhattan" were standouts is like throwing darts, with any of the other tunes you'd land on a bullseye as well.

And within those were genuinely spectacular instrumental moments, provided mostly by guitarist Mitch Wakins, keyboardist Neil Larsen and violinist Aleandru Bublitchi, while the versatile rhythm section of bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck and drummer Rafael Gayol drove the songs with understated precision. Robinson dueted with Cohen on "In My Secret Life" and absolutely slayed "Alexandra Leaving," while the Webb Sisters took the lead on a chill-inducing "If It Be Your Will."

An upbeat "Closing Time" provided the appropriate closing for Monday's show, and, truth be told, at 78 Cohen may be getting closing to closing time for his touring life. But he told the Fox crowd that he'd "like to stay on the road another couple of years until I'm 80 -- 'cause I want to start smoking again." He'd certainly be welcomed back with open arms any time, probably with a fair number of fans willing to light his cigarette of choice.



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