Exclaim!

Leonard Cohen

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON, December 4

Leonard Cohen
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With obvious similarities, porkpie hats and fedoras fall into the same genus. Nevertheless, they're worlds apart. While the former exudes a certain gallant roguishness (see Popeye Doyle), the latter, if worn in earnest (i.e., not you, Joey Jeremiah), radiates class and sophistication (see Leonard Cohen).

Earlier this year, Cohen turned 78 years old. He is not your buddy; he's your man. He exists in rarefied air, and he looks damn natural in a gentleman's hat. Despite the years logged — or perhaps because of them — his shows are marathons. Fittingly, he jogged out to start the first of a two-night ACC engagement. He wouldn't say goodnight for more than three hours.

Long-distance endurance is largely about pace and Cohen and co. managed theirs expertly. Wading in with a laid-back, Euro cabaret-indebted take on "Dance Me to the End of Love," things began slowly, notwithstanding the incisive fiddle. Similarly, the rhythm section stayed in first gear for "The Future" before a one-two punch of "Bird on the Wire" and "Everybody Knows" picked up the energy level.

Backed by an extraordinary nine-piece band, Cohen was a generous leader, frequently recognizing players by name and doling out deserved compliments. Whether going ominous on "Everybody Knows" or jaunty on "Darkness," the rhythm section was integral.

Also, bravura turns came from an amazing Javier Mas on the laud and bandurria (think modern lutes), and Alexandru Bublitchi on violin. Throughout, backup singers, the Webb Sisters and longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson deftly buoyed Cohen's singular rasp.

Across two sets and two encores, highlights abounded, from a spoken word "A Thousand Kisses Deep" and a Nick Cave-style "Tower of Song" to a jazzed-up "Anyhow" and a Celtic-inspired "Come Healing."

Naturally, hits like "Suzanne," "Hallelujah" and "So Long, Marianne" culled sing-alongs, and other standouts included a tango-inflected "I'm Your Man," a grand "Take This Waltz" and apropos closer "Closing Time."

Eloquent, elegant and altogether charming, Cohen delivered a ceaselessly engaging show that profited from its extended runtime. And he'll do it again, fedora and all.
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