There already have been six official Leonard Cohen live albums, dating back to 1973, and a number of bootleg and record company promo releases as well. Despite Cohen’s persona as a somewhat misanthropic individual, his records show that he establishes a warm rapport with his audiences and treats them with respect and deference. This is not a trick created by the music editors and recording engineers to fool the public. As someone who has seen and heard Cohen in person, I can attest to the fact that the man does his best to ingratiate himself with the crowd and freely expresses his gratitude to them just for showing up. Therefore, I can honestly recommend that if he is appearing in your vicinity and you enjoy his fare, go see him. It’s worth the high ticket price.
Leonard Cohen’s Live In Dublin, a three CD/DVD set available in Blu-ray and digital configurations, is the first time a Cohen show was shot in high definition. The package contains a full-length concert from Dublin’s 02 Arena on September 12, 2013. The sound from the stage is pristine, the high-resolution images striking, and the audience engaged and reverential. More importantly, Cohen is in excellent form. The then 78-year-old artist is at the height of his powers a performer. His fellow musicians and background vocalists play and sing flawlessly. The repertoire is excellently arranged and presented.
The Cohen here is not all that different than on the excellent two-CD set Live in London. In fact both live shows feature several of the same songs in similar order. The two opening cuts on both discs and “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “The Future”. Seven of the 11 tracks on Dublin CD are also on the earlier first CD from London. There’s more variety on the other two discs from Ireland, but unfortunately there are still renditions of “Hallelujah” and “Suzanne”, tunes even Cohen has publicly noted should be retired for a while. Alas, these recordings come from a live show and the bulk of the audience would certainly feel disappointed if the songs were not played.
Let’s be straight, Cohen has been a major figure on the rock music scene since the ’60s. His best work over the decades have gone on to become standards, such as the aforementioned “Hallelujah” that has been covered well by everyone from Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright to Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Bono, and K. D. Lang. There really is no reason to quibble. A live recording of the man every five years has more than just archival value. While there are only two recent songs, “Amen” and “Come Healing”, from Cohen’s 2012 album ironically titled Old Ideas, there are several other cuts Cohen has not recorded live before, including Doc Pomus’ pop masterpiece “Save the Last Dance for Me”. Despite the three hour length of the complete box set, the time moves briskly due to the variety of the songs and musical configurations—including live selections from the backup singers, the Webb Sisters and Sharon Robinson. The DVD also contains bonus songs from three April 2013 shows in Canada.
So if you want the Leonard Cohen experience, but cannot afford the $100-plus tab for the ticket, this is the next best thing. Fans and critics commonly cite Cohen’s verbal virtuosity, but as the live shows reveal he is much more than a poet with language. He’s a songwriter, musician, and performer of the highest order and age has only improved him.