Leonard Cohen at Waldbühne Berlin
By Sascha Krieger
In the end, he bows to the curfew set on concerts at Berlin’s Waldbühne amphitheater. So the set of encores is cut short, the tongue in cheek fooling around with the audience that is I Tried to Leave You is cut and the concert ends on the Drifters cover Save the Last Dance for Me. It is a fitting ending, a good-bye that is not a farewell but a hope we might see each other again, we, the „friends“, the humble man on the stage keeps calling us. And it ends what has essentially been a three-and-a-half hour dance, from the opener Dance Me to the End of Love via the regular set closer Take this Waltz to this borrowed but perfectly swinging and lighthearted ending. Leonard Cohen, the 77-year old who never wanted to be a pop song, who was first successful as a novelist and poet has long made his peace with having become exactly this, a song poet, a singing poet. And a dancing one, as he skips and jumps on and off stage, as he takes the audience in his arms and dances them through more than 40 years of songs, sad ones and thoughtful ones, the angry and the playful, the melancholy and the joyful. For Cohen, the master of melancholy has long adapted a relaxed wise-old-man look at life, as his hard cold baritone grew into a deep, warm bass. Not all is good by far but not all is bad either. And so we dance with him through the decades, seriously and with a wink at one or the other youthful bitterness. A Leonard Cohen concert is time travel at its most fulfilling and one that ends right here and right now. This old man is anything but tired leaving his audience as wide awake as could be.
Cohen’s set spans his entire career – from the bitter early hit Suzanne, which played by his excellent band and wonderful backing vocalists (among them Sharon Robinson, co-writer of many a Cohen song) to his current album Old Ideas. And as the record is a sometimes bitter, sometimes sad but often satisfied look back at past mistakes and loves long gone, so is the concert. All the women are there, Suzanne, Marianne, Jane, Alexandra, the Sisters of Mercy, even the Gypsy Wife, serenaded by this old lover of women, this searcher for love and of the truth it promises. There is Anthem and there is Hallelujah and in a way, a Leonard Cohen concert is something of a mass, a service to the god of love and that of music – in the Tower of Song or the sacred song he mentions in Hallelujah. The quasi-political is there, in The Future, in Democracy or in the soft and tender The Partizan. Old friends – what he calls his audience could well be said about his songs, songs full of memories for many, songs that still speak to us.
For first and foremost, Leonard Cohen is a poet of humanity, the human mind and body with all their flaws and weaknesses. A frail-looking but very lively and agile old man is celebrating the good and the band, the successes and the many many errors and sometime he seems flustered to be on the stage with his fine musicians and perhaps even to still be here. Often his eyes are closed when singing, almost conjuring up those older or younger ghosts of songs and making them appear briefly as if in the flesh before our eyes.He goes down to the knees as his songs are often prayers, not so much to a god than to all of us, humankind which, himself included, might well do better but should at the very least keep trying. In one recent song, Cohen describes himself as „a lazy bastard living in a suit“. This is one of the few things he is not – this magician, priest, poet, prophet and, most importantly, lover. Do not worry, Leonard, we will always save the last dance for you.