Leonard Cohen turned 78 years old this fall, but he showed no signs of allowing his age to slow him down when he performed Friday night (Nov. 23) at the Akoo Theatre (the suburban Chicago venue formerly known as the Rosemont Theatre). Cohen was on the stage for more than three hours! As the concert began, he said he and his band would give the audience everything they had — and it turned out that he wasn’t joking.
Cohen delivered a marathon greatest-hits concert backed by a versatile band of virtuosos and dulcet-voiced singers. Cohen has never been seen as a conventionally great singer, but his conversational tone is perfect for putting the emphasis on his poetic lyrics — and his weathered voice sounded just right on Friday night, especially when it descended into beautifully creaky baritone depths. As good as Cohen’s band is, he allowed the musicians to indulge in a few too many solos over the course of the evening, but it was always touching to see Cohen’s unusual gesture toward those players. Whenever it was someone’s turn to play a solo, Cohen doffed his hat, holding it in front of his chest in a sign of respect, as he stood or knelt facing the soloist.
Cohen also knelt frequently as he sang. Maybe he just felt comfortable resting his legs for a minute, but it also seemed like a sign of gratitude, or perhaps a recognition of music’s holy quality. Cohen skipped with delight as he left the stage, and then he kept coming back … and coming back. Many audience members got up to leave after his first encore, but then he came back and sang more. He skipped away again, audience members got up again, and then Cohen returned for yet another encore. By the time he finished with a cover of the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me,” he had played 30 songs. And he looked like he could’ve kept it up for another few hours.
Here’s a set list — which Greg Kot included in his Chicago Tribune review; the list matches my notes from the concert.
FIRST SET: Dance Me to the End of Love / The Future / Bird on the Wire / Everybody Knows / Who by Fire / Darkness / Ain’t No Cure for Love / Amen / Come Healing / In My Secret Life / A Thousand Kisses Deep / Anthem
SECOND SET: Tower of Song / Suzanne / Waiting for the Miracle / Anyhow / Heart With No Companion / Democracy / Alexandra Leaving (performed by Sharon Robinson) / I’m Your Man / Hallelujah / Take This Waltz
FIRST ENCORE: So Long, Marianne / Going Home / First We Take Manhattan
SECOND ENCORE: Famous Blue Raincoat / If It Be Your Will (performed by Webb Sisters) / Closing Time
THIRD ENCORE: I Tried to Leave You / Save the Last Dance for Me