An acclaimed poet and novelist before he released his first album of music in 1968, Leonard Cohen brought a distinctive literary streak to a singer-songwriter landscape already populated with the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Cohen's vision was consistently darker, however, seeming to float through tiers of melancholy, his delivery dour, barely surpassing a monotone, but nevertheless compelling, while his music seemed a blend of noirish art song and Brechtian cabaret. His erudite, often apocalyptic lyrics grapple with monumental, enigmatic questions about life, love, spirituality, and politics. A handful of his classics—"Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Hallelujah"—have become standards covered by hundreds of artists. Cohen spent the first half of this decade as a monk living in a Buddhist monastery. Last year, at age 73, he launched his first tour in 15 years, earning rave reviews and including a July performance at the massive O2 Arena that was released last month as Live in London. On two CDs, Cohen, his weathered voice conjuring surprising power through sheer force of personality, covers the high points of his 40-year career, not as a vapid greatest-hits turn, but as a sort of journey of rediscovery, revisiting old haunts to see how they're faring at this late date. Which is remarkably well, thanks in part to a superb band whose nuances of melody, harmony, and rhythm match those that inhabit Cohen's narratives. That intact group—including keyboardist Neil Larson, guitarist Bob Metzger, and the R&B-leaning vocal trio of Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb—will be along here, contributing to ample evidence that Cohen's still the man. All ages.
Sun., May 3, 7:30 p.m., 2009