The Tzaddik from Montreal

The Leonard Cohen concert in San Jose, on November 13, was one of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen/heard in my life. Actually, it was of a whole different order. Here’s this seventy five year old man who sings, with only one break, for 3 hours, incredibly complex music with a band of nine consummate musicians and singers, and often, in the course of a song, sinks to a position where he’s seated on his heels singing his heart out like Jolson, sometimes to the audience and sometimes to one of the musicians, having a deep conversation with whomever he’s with, in musical phrases. Then, he rises fluidly, in one motion on those 75 year old knees, moving like a cat. An old cat, but still… He literally skipped on and of stage several times and constantly, humbly, with no artifice, thanked the audience (after intermission he thanked us for hanging in and not falling under the influence of “my songs which are allegedly so depressing.”)

He introduced the band once in each half of the show, bowing in Zen Buddhist-inflected reverence before each one’s considerable skill and talent. He gave each one a “title.” Dino Soldo, the reed player is “The Master of Breath,” Bob Metzger, legendary studio guitarist is “The Architect of the Arpeggio.” Javier Mas, a string player from Barcelona is the “Shepherd of Strings” and drummer Rafael Gayol is the “High Priest of Precision.” He honored Sharon Robinson, his collaborator for the last 10 years or so, who has written the music for many of his recent songs, and who sings gloriously, with an extended solo version of Boogie Street. Belying its title, the song starts with a heart-rending, gospel-influenced, a capella verse. He also gave the angelic Webb sisters, who, with Ms Robinson form his impeccable back-up chorus, a song of their own. Accompanying themselves on guitar and Irish harp, they had thousands in tears with If it be your Will one of L. Cohen’s most nakedly spiritual songs.

The audience of 10,000 or so at the HP Pavilion ran from young fashionista types to old Jewish types like me with a full range in between. The common factor was the universal appreciation for the man and his music which very often reached levels of collective joy.

Generous, funny, self-deprecating, gallant, graceful, knowing, beautiful, inspiring. The concert may have permanently altered a few of my neurons, in a good way. He is a bona fide Tzaddik. (Heb. a holy person; a spiritual leader similar to the Buddhist notion of the Bodhisattva, one who places the spiritual health of the community above his or her own personal enlightenment.)

My attendance was a gift from my dear friend Jonathan Greenberg, a renaissance man if there ever was one, and an equally serious fan of L.C.

You can buy most of the individual songs from the set on iTunes or at Amazon or get the entire Live In London on CD or as a DVD, (which I have yet to see). You can also hear a typically haimish (Yiddish: down home, personal, real) Terry Gross interview with il Maestro here.

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