Leonard Cohen live

14 November 2008

I’m just back from London’s O2 arena and a Leonard Cohen extravaganza. It was awesome.

Cohen toured the UK earlier in 2008 for the first time in over 14 years. I didn’t go then because I resisted the notion of seeing a performer like him in a large stadium. Then I read the reviews. They were very good. So when he added some more London dates, I got a ticket.

Cohen was the absolute epitome of cool. He and his band were dapper, smooth, and charming. They were elegant and professional, and if it had been anyone else singing other than this bass poet it would have been boring. But Cohen is profound, and defies any crass attachments. He is old – 74 years old – and had lessons to teach us.

Intensely classy lessons that went on for more than 3 hours, as it turned out. He started the evening by acknowledging both the economy and the O2 as he thanked us for braving such dizzying financial and architectural heights. It was quiet, you could hear every word of his vocals. The musicians were given chances to solo, but tastefully, and quietly. Everyone wore a hat. “Bird On A Wire” was stunning and moving. “Who By Fire” had a great Spanish guitar intro. The backup singers delivered “If It Be Your Will”. “Tower of Song” and “Hallelujah” were touching. “First We Take Manhattan” is simply the coolest song ever recorded.

Given the recent American election, “Democracy”‘s refrain – ‘Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.’ – got an enormous cheer every time it was repeated.

Despite his 74 years, Cohen never walked on or off stage; he ran and skipped, full tilt, each time. He was, simply, class. His songwriting is in the league of Dylan, but his sauve delivery is unparalleled.

He sang:

  • Dance Me To The End of Love
  • The Future
  • Ain’t No Cure For Love
  • Bird On A Wire
  • Everybody Knows
  • In My Secret Life
  • Who By Fire
  • Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
  • That Don’t Make It Junk
  • Anthem


  • Tower of Song
  • Suzanne
  • The Gypsy’s Wife
  • The Partisan
  • Boogie Street
  • Hallelujah
  • I’m Your Man
  • A Thousand Kisses Deep
  • Take This Waltz

1st encore

  • So Long, Marianne
  • First We Take Manhattan

2nd encore

  • Famous Blue Raincoat
  • If It Be Your Will
  • Democracy

3rd encore

  • I Tried To Leave You
  • Whither Thou Goest
Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Photo from jonl1973 via Creative Commons license.

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  1. I saw him with my wife in Oberhausen/Germany – It was a thrill – It was a prayer: that what cohen is in reality – a priest

  2. You forgot to mention Closing Time, I’m pretty certain that was performed after If it be your will.

  3. They definitely didn’t play “Closing Time” when I was in the arena, and I stayed until after they’d finished bowing and the lights came on.

  4. Apologies, you’re correct I double checked my notes and I think I wrote ‘closing time’ down because the 2 ladies behind me constantly bemoaned the fact that every song *wasn’t* ‘closing time’!

  5. Nice review, you clearly had better seats than me, although I suspect your time was the poorer for not having two east end “barra boys” behind you spilling red wine and shouting “Ave it Leonard” at the end of every song!

    That said, they too thought that “First we take Manhattan” was the coolest song ever…demonstrated by loudly yelling “then we take Berlin”.

    Strangely, it did add to the experience for me!

    Thankfully, I saw him at the O2 on his earlier visit and will be seeing him at the Royal Albert Hall next week as well!

  6. Damn you! The RAH would be so much better, but I’d already bought my O2 ticket so couldn’t justify the purchase.

  7. Credit Crunch…what credit crunch!

  8. It was a superb night – thanks for writing the list of songs performed. I was rather hoping for “Closing Time” too, but could hardly complain at the end of the evening!

  9. I saw him 15 years ago at the RHA, probably his tour. I had a friend who had a part time job at Harvey Goldsmith and had seats in their box.

    Again he was on stage for over 3 hours. During the many encores he apologised for not remembering more songs as he sung some songs twice.

    I remember sitting with my arms crossed on the balcony rail, my chin on my hands and a grin from ear to ear.

  10. [...] saw Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen play again last night. It was every bit as magical as the last time. There’s very little else I can add to what I wrote last time. The man is one of a handful of [...]

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