Leonard Cohen, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland, Sept 12 2012 – live review

Leonard Cohen, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland, Sept 12 2012 – Live Review

Leonard Cohen makes a return to Dublin’s IMMA to try out some ‘Old Ideas’. Our resident Louder Than War Cohen fanatic Colin McCracken was there.

In June 2008, at the IMMA grounds in Dublin, Leonard Cohen made his first live appearance on European soil in over 15 years. His return was partially inspired by the massive levels of interest which were spawned by two nights of tribute shows which played at the Point Theatre (now the O2) in 2006. The tribute was entitled ”ËœCame so far for beauty’ and was a product of Hal Willner, featuring a dream line up consisting of Nick Cave, Anthony, Lou Reed and many more. The show was a huge success and promoters were able to coax the Canadian poet / songwriter over for a series of three shows. This snowballed into a worldwide tour which never really stopped.

In the meantime we have seen a sublime new album ”ËœOld Ideas‘ released earlier this year, in which Cohen examines his own mortality, amongst many other things, in his own acerbic and inimitable way. This week he made a return to Dublin to showcase not only his greatest hits, but some of the new material as well.

The band made an appearance onstage at 7.15 with military precision (many were not prepared for such a punctual start) with the now common opener ”ËœDance Me to the End of Love’. It was a delight to see that Cohen’s touring band has not changed greatly, with the absence of Dino Soldo and the introduction of Moldovan violinist Alexandru Bublitchi being the only alteration from the 2008 structure. The loss of Soldo’s skills as a saxophonist are more than made up for by Bublitchi’s spellbinding abilities.

The subsequent three hours were as captivating and enchanting as live music can be. Subtle rearrangements permeated old favourites, whilst new tracks such as the beautiful ”ËœGoing Home’ and the chilling ”ËœDarkness’ slotted perfectly amongst the tried and tested classics. Cohen represents all that is humble, gracious and joyful and is a far cry from the ill-fitting tag of needless melancholia which is usually attributed to him by those who don’t know any better.

His voice has improved with age (and a healthier and more satisfied lifestyle) which adds extra resonance and clout to his older material. The accompanying vocals of the incomparable Sharon Robinson and the enamouring Webb Sisters creates a musical spectacle which has to be experienced in the flesh to be truly appreciated.

With musical styles ranging from Balkan folk to Casio synth pop flirted with throughout, the multi instrumentalism of the group is utilised to the full. Cohen gives his absolute all in every performance, constantly acknowledging and thanking the crowd for their attendance and attention. He regularly stops to remind the audience of not only his musical compatriots, but of the technical and support staff that he brings with him as well.

It is so rare to see a show without fault, one which transcends the usual quibbling and griping which journalists love to do when it comes to performances. Leonard Cohen is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about music, as he shows just how significant and genuinely meaningful it can be. He balances darkness and wit with delicate and poignant beauty, yet is self-effacing enough to see the folly of it all.

Fans were treated to individual displays of both vocal and musical dexterity, Robinson’s solo version of ”ËœAlexandra Leaving’ was followed by the Webb sisters stunning rendition of ”ËœComing Back to You’. Personal highlights were getting to hear ”ËœThe Partisan’ and ”ËœWaiting for the Miracle’. It is also worth mentioning that hearing ”ËœHallelujah’ as it is meant to be sung is a wonderful and memorable experience which no amount of X-Factor associations will ever dilute nor take away.

Cohen quipped at the start of the show that earlier in the day he had read an article about himself in one of the Irish newspapers which stated that ”ËœAfter a 15 year absence, Leonard Cohen returned to Ireland. Now we can’t get rid of him.’

I for one hope that we never do.

Setlist was as follows:
Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
Who by Fire
Sisters of Mercy
Come Healing
In My Secret Life
Going Home
Waiting for the Miracle
Lights As The Breeze

Tower of Song
Night Comes On
Heart with No Companion
The Gypsy’s Wife
The Partisan
Coming Back to You (performed by the Webb Sisters)
Alexandra Leaving (performed by Sharon Robinson)
I’m Your Man
Take This Waltz
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
Closing Time

(NB: This was my third time seeing Cohen. I was also in attendance of the Hal Willner event, which was remarkable and brilliant in its own right.)

All words by Colin McCracken. You can read more of his Louder Than War articles HERE
He writes about movies HERE and lurks about on Twitter HERE

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Colin McCracken is an Irish writer and cinematic obsessive who writes extensively about movies on a daily basis for his website Zombiehamster.com. He is equally passionate about vinyl (he used to run an independent record store), literature, live music and film soundtracks. He can also be found regularly on twitter as @zombiehamster.


  1. Overall this concert was quite flat – a lot of good stuff but no real high points.

    A big contributor here was the poor seating layout at RHK – a few hundred rows of flat seating going straight back with the banked seating in a straight line at the rear. Contrast that with Lissadell where the banked seating was much closer to the stage and wrapped around the arena. At the RHK there was no sense of a shared experience, and this was evident from the crowd reaction – very muted compared with a normal Cohen event.
    The other big gap was the absence of Dino Soldo. The band so badly needed the richness and variety that his playing and instrumentation brings. The music was good, but as Eamonn Dunphy would say , not great.

    Finally, and this is no one’s fault, it was a damn cold night, and for the first time ever I, and I think many others, was happy the concert finished on time.
    Leonard was in superb form, but even his efforts couldn’t overcome the poor setting and the shortcoming in the band

  2. I flew into the country to see the show with a dear friend and it far far far exceeded all my expectations. I found the show to be exceptional. From the sound quality to the staging, song set choice, to the audience. We truly enjoyed it all.

    The level of professionalism Mr. Cohen displayed was exemplary. I felt it an honour to be present at the show Tuesday night.

    It was definitely a cold night, but a hot time, and I for one did not feel like a beautiful looser :)
    Kol Ha Kavod

    Scott Lawrence
    Jerusalem Israel-Sept, 2012


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