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Review and photos by Andy ArgyrakisThe last four years have been especially productive for Leonard Cohen, who besides mounting a seemingly never ending world tour, also turned in one of the most entrancing and essential albums of his lauded career. "Old Ideas" (Columbia) finds the 78-year-old troubadour conjuring up yet another sharp, sophisticated batch of richly poetic lyrics bathed in the same understated folk pop stylings that made him an underground hero, occasional hitmaker and frequent source of tribute. (Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, k.d. lang, Rufus Wainwright and Don Henley are just a few of the many who've covered a tune).
During his latest Chicago area visit, the veteran turned in an extremely generous three hour set with his pokerfaced presentation in tact, alongside the magnificent stylings of a six piece band and the superb vocal support of long time collaborators Sharon Robinson and The Webb Sisters. Even so, the show's main focus turned to the laureate's genius lyrics, which focused on the various facets of romance ("Dance Me To The End Of Love," "Ain't No Cure For Love"), various degrees of soul searching ("Amen," "Come Healing") and several of his signature storytelling songs ("Bird On The Wire," "Suzanne").
Though Cohen doesn't exactly have vocals of velvet (and they're certainly an acquired taste for the general population), his charmingly wry delivery gets more refined with time, which was particularly evident as his smoky baritone sputtered out the classic "Everybody Knows" and the sparse new piano ballad "Anyhow." The crooner also delivered other enduring chestnuts like "I'm Your Man" and "Hallelujah" with just as much ease and intricacy, all highlighting his literary turns of phrases with vigor and vitality.
Given the rapturous response from the sold out audience, the encores kept right on rolling from astute oldies like "So Long, Marianne" and "First We Take Manhattan" to the current "Going Home," which found the eternally wise artist (and ordained Buddhist monk) casting a spell of peace and reconciliation. And Cohen made it clear that no matter how long this road trip will wind, he'll be going out on top, not only as one of the world's most treasured songwriters, but also as a man who seems to be enjoying the journey more than ever before.
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