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December 22, 2014

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MUSIC:

Leonard Cohen back in limelight after 15 years

Iconic singer will play Colosseum

If You Go

  • What: Leonard Cohen
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: Colosseum at Caesars Palace
  • Admission: $75-$275; 737-7110, caesarspalace.com

Some might view this most auspicious yet unlikely occasion as a harbinger of the End Times. Forget hell freezing over, pigs flying, the mountain coming to Muhammad or other adynatons.

Leonard Cohen is playing Las Vegas.

The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, in fact: At age 75, the balladeer, poet, prophet, dark-eyed, sad-voiced ladies man is sliding right into the luxe 4,000-seat venue, between Bette Midler and Cher, next door to the Pussycat Dolls.

This is a Cultural Moment for both Cohen and Las Vegas. The perfect ironic storm of seeing the ascetically debauched secular saint serenade the most opulent saloon in the City of Sin may never be surpassed.

Mother of reinvention

Cohen’s valedictory world tour, which began in his Canadian homeland in May 2008 and has visited more than 150 cities, reportedly was inspired by necessity. After 15 years of near-total silence, Cohen came down from the mountain (quite literally: he was studying Zen in a monastery atop Mount Baldy in Southern California) to find that millions of dollars had vanished from his retirement fund. The case against his former personal manager is still being argued.

But after 15 years away from the stage, Cohen has been rewarded with the harvest of years. The concerts, including a date at Coachella, have been ecstatically received, and most of them sold out. Documented on the recent DVD and double CD “Leonard Cohen: Live in London,” the tour continues into 2010; Cohen wraps it up March 19 at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

Love and death

When he first appeared on the music scene in 1967, Cohen, then 33, was old as rock stars go. “The last time I was here, I was 60 years old,” Cohen said to his London audience. “Just a kid with a crazy dream.” Generations have listened to his songs of love and hate; their intimate orchestrations (often kept humble with the comic twanging of a Jew’s harp), made us feel deep in our youth. And those songs found deeper meanings as our sorrows and celebrations became those of adults. Cohen searched and suffered alongside us. “In that interim period, I took a lot of Prozac,” he said to the London crowd, “Paxil, Desyrel, Ritalin, Adderall, Wellbutrin, Focalin ... What did you guys take?”

The voice

Even Cohen himself has joked about his melancholy, sepulchral croak. “I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice,” he sings in “Tower of Song.” But as with his lyrics, the voice has only become more intimate and resonant, like the lowest string of a double bass.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a singer,” Cohen told Uncut Magazine. “I’ve been free from those considerations because so many people over the years told me I don’t have a voice. I kind of bought that.” But it’s the right instrument for his songs.

Songs of Leonard Cohen

“Suzanne.” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.” “Bird on the Wire.” “Famous Blue Raincoat.” “Dance Me to the End of Love.” “Everybody Knows.” “Democracy.” “The Future.” “Anthem.” “Hallelujah”...

And his band

Cohen’s performances on this tour have been described as a mix of ceremony and orgy — some audiences kept him past the three-hour mark. He is accompanied by an excellent band, sporting, like Cohen, suits and waistcoats and rakish fedoras. The musicians include Javier Mas on 12-string bandurria and guitar, Bob Metzger (electric, acoustic & pedal steel guitar) Dino Soldo (sax, clarinet), Neil Larsen (keyboards and Hammond B3), Roscoe Beck (bass), Rafael Gayol (drums) and exquisite vocalists Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters, Charley and Hattie.

Homage

Inducting Cohen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, Lou Reed described Cohen as belonging to the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.”

Cohen is deeply loved by musicians and audiences. And perhaps because there wasn’t any indication or hope that he would ever tour again, many tributes to Cohen have sprouted, including a Montreal Jazz Festival concert and the concert-turned-documentary film “I’m Your Man,” which features Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave and U2. The album “Tower of Song” features Cohen’s canon sung by Sting, Tori Amos and Elton John; the more recent “I’m Your Fan” includes interpretations by R.E.M. and the Pixies. Cohen’s son, Adam Cohen, is also a singer-songwriter; he sings “Bird on the Wire” on the international tribute album “Acordes Con Leonard Cohen.”

The most idiosyncratic tribute may be the 30-member all-male a cappella choir called Conspiracy of Beards, which performs Cohen songs exclusively; like its inspiration, the group is deeply sincere, humble and humorous.

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