Leonard Cohen Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Halifax NS May 12

"I tried to leave you,” Leonard Cohen sang with a smile in his second encore, but it was harder than he expected. What was supposed to be a two-night engagement at Dalhousie University's Rebecca Cohn Auditorium quickly turned into five sold-out, feverishly anticipated shows in a server-crashing rush when tickets went on sale in March. Cohen, who looked every one of his 73 years as he shuffled stoop-shouldered across the stage, made his entrance in semi-formal attire, topped with a fedora. "About the hats,” he offered by way of explanation, "we’re orthodox musicians.” Under the musical direction of bassist Roscoe Beck, the band of Bob Metzger, Neil Larsen, Dino Soldo, Rafael Gayol, and the fabulous Javier Mas offered elegant accompaniment to songs every member of the audience knew by heart. "Suzanne,” of course, delighted. "Hallelujah,” a song that has taken on a rather remarkable life of its own in recent years, brought the crowd to its feet. The sly humour of "Tower of Song,” fresh on everyone’s mind from Cohen’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech, seemed even slyer backed only by a tinny keyboard and the voices of Sharon Robinson and sisters Charley and Hattie Webb. The courtly and creepy "Who By Fire,” propelled by the haunting oud of Javier Mas, was simply stunning. The two-and-a-half-hour set mixed the familiar with the unexpected: "Où est-elle? Où est-elle ce soir?” he asked before "The Gypsy’s Wife,” of all things. More recent material, like "In My Secret Life” and "Boogie Street” from 2001’s Ten New Songs, failed to match the extraordinarily high standard of Cohen’s earlier work, not that anyone minded. "You’re making this too easy,” Cohen told us after perhaps one ovation too many, but it seemed like the least we could do.