Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Leonard Cohen: Live in London [Columbia, 2009]
What a strange and inspiring story. Cohen had reached a state of permanent equilibrium by the year 2000, a revered cult artist in his late sixties with a multimillion-dollar catalogue and a mild case of agoraphobia. Musically he remained fairly productive, but detached, as befitted a Zen priest. Only then his longtime manager sold his publishing out from under his nose and absconded with the proceeds, and at 70 he found himself down to his last 150 grand. So in early 2008, aged 73, he launched a money-making world tour that has continued ever since. Offered a ticket by a friend, I walked in a fond skeptic and walked out a convert. The miraculous show I witnessed, where Cohen literally skipped on and off stage, lasted even longer than this two-and-a-half-hour double-CD, which will now be my Cohen of choice even though its songs are pretty much duplicated on the excellent Essential Leonard Cohen. The band is on it, the backup singers are solicitous, and Cohen's husk of a voice has been juiced up by the exercise. But the difference isn't the performances per se. It's the audience interactions. Gracious to a fault, Cohen is no longer detached. As practiced as his profuse thank yous are, his gratitude for the adoration of his cult is palpable not just in his stage talk but in the warmth and good humor with which he celebrates an oeuvre that no longer makes him a dime. Though I'd say it's less, Hank Williams may still be a hundred floors above him in the tower of song. But Cohen is no longer wondering how lonely things can get. A