The short version: If you get a chance to see Leonard Cohen on his current tour, take it. You won’t see a better show this year.
In fact, if tickets are available, stop reading now and go buy some, fool. They’re pretty ridiculous, pricewise — the cheap seats at the Fox Theatre in Detroit Saturday were $65 plus service charge, ranging up to $250 — but like I said, this is a rare pop-music outing that’s worth the price. The 74-year-old Cohen plays for more than three hours, and if you have a favorite song, you’re likely to hear it. Alan is not an easily pleased concertgoer, and he turned to me after the third number and said, “This is a top-fiver.” That’s not an annual ranking.
An elegant stage set — a riser for the band, simple scrims lit by changing-color lights, everyone in black and white — walked a careful line that suggested the gravitas one of the greatest living singer-songwriters has accumulated over his long life, but never edged into pretension. This guy worked hard for the money. There was less love-me vibe coming from the stage than you’d find at the American Idols also-rans show. Cohen spent five years in seclusion at a Zen center during the 1990s, and he must have learned some powerful lessons about simplicity and understatement.
Oh, what am I saying? He’s known that for a while. Truth be told, I didn’t leap at the chance to go when Alan suggested it; it’s been my experience that singer-songwriters frequently put on lousy shows, and the sole time I saw Bob Dylan live will remain a lifelong disappointment. Get them in a small enough venue and it works, but what is Cohen about? The lyrics, and that mournful, whispery baritone. He plays best on CD, when you’re alone and able to concentrate and stare out the window at some Canadian landscape. The thought of seeing him overpowered by an electric guitar didn’t sound worth $130, plus service charges, parking and add-ons.
I shouldn’t have worried. The sound mix was a miracle — you could hear every word, even while the musicians did anything but fade into the woodwork. There was everything from a Hammond B3 to an oud to a gong onstage, and you heard every one as well as you did Cohen’s voice. Add three angel-voiced chick singers, one of them Cohen’s longtime collaborator, Sharon Robinson, and that was a stage full of talent that could have supported any singer capably.
At the final encore, everyone took a quick solo, and Cohen lined up the whole gang for an extended farewell that sounded like a valediction. “I don’t know when we’ll be passing this way again,” he said. In other words: This is it, folks. (The story goes that this tour was necessitated by money troubles, but ah well — even the greatest artists have to eat.) As the last show of a distinguished career, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been better.
In other news at this hour, Kate and I went to see “Star Trek” on Sunday, and that was pretty good, too, although once time travel gets introduced into any movie plot, that’s my signal to stop asking questions and just let it wash over me. Fortunately, it was a pleasant bath.
If you’re looking for a way to intellectually justify your attendance at the same movie, take one op-ed and call me in the morning:
I can still remember the first time I saw “A Piece of the Action,” which was set on Sigma Iotia II, the gangster-movie planet, on which Kirk and Spock donned fedoras and pinstriped suits to blend in. As a boy in grade school, I found it excitingly ridiculous but baffling. Why was Spock waving around a tommy gun?
Fortunately, my big sister, then already in high school, was on hand to explain the wondrous narrative physics of the episode. I was watching a puzzle made from three things, she said: one, the “Star Trek” I understood; two, a period crime movie our father liked, called “The Roaring Twenties”; and three, the clownish “Soupy Sales Show.”
I realized years later that I had heard the future in my sister’s cheeky teasing out of the pop-culture influences in one wonderfully, unashamedly preposterous episode of “Star Trek.” Today, my 22-year-old daughter talks that way about everything.
If you want to relate “Star Trek” to the new world of Hope and Change, well, you take that shit down to the comments, because in this bar, we take our big-explodey-movie fun straight.
Related: Hank Stuever on the Trouble with Quibbles, or how fanboys ‘n’ girls ruin everything. Or try to.
A final bit of bloggage: My poor suburb made it to the front page of Sunday Styles. Of course, it could have been better news — Grosse Pointe Blues.