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Review: Crowds pack in for Leonard Cohen's majestic Tampa debut



Leonard Cohen performed his first concert in Tampa Monday night at the prim-and-proper Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. What a surreal night.

The historic sold-out event started with a weird box office ruckus and ended with a five-song encore, affirming Cohen as a living legend.

The ruckus: Concert-goers arriving up to 45 minutes before show time were forced to wait in agonizingly slow will call lines 50 people deep and missed the beginning of the concert, which started on time. Only a few employees were on hand to accommodate hundreds of attendees picking up their tickets. People shouted in complaint, occasionally at each other. One man joked, "It’s the St. Pete City Council meeting all over again," referring to a recent tussle between senior citizens at a public meeting in St. Petersburg.

Cohen’s three-hour performance more than made up for any initial stress, making the 2,590 oldsters and hipsters in the audience happy. At 75, the lithe Canadian tuckered out 25- and 35-year-old working stiffs in the audience, practically threatening Springsteen's position as the Boss of epic concert endurance.

Wearing his signature suit and fedora – everyone on stage was dressed in smart, quasi-ragtime attire, even the stagehands – Cohen’s performance style went from understated to regal to childlike and animated, swaying back and forth, buckling and kneeling as if overwhelmed by the weight of his words (or conserving energy).

Cohen intensely expressed the aching and tender emotion of his lyrics, words about love, loss and redemption. During his encores, he skipped off the stage like a mischievous gypsy. He recited poignant words from his poetry, such as A Thousand Kisses Deep.

The concert, split by a 15-minute intermission, offered Cohen classics during both acts. He sang Bird on the Wire during the first half and strapped on a black acoustic for the second half, performing a lovely stripped-down version of Suzanne. For Hallelujah, silver lights bathed the backdrop in a silver heavenly glow – the lighting was indeed a star of the show, as was the crisp and perfect sound.

Cohen’s band featured his "collaborator" of later hits and vocalist extraordinaire, Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters (background vocals), Roscoe Beck (musical director and bass), Rafael Gayol (drums, percussion), and  Dino Soldo (sax, clarinet, dobro, keys),

Sarasota-area homeboy Neil Larsen (keyboards, accordion and Hammond B3 accordion), Bob Metzger (electric, acoustic and pedal steel guitar) and Javier Mas (bandurria, laud, archilaud, 12-string acoustic guitar).

The supporting players got more than average due attention from the headliner, with each getting not one but two introductions and several long solos in the spotlight. Cohen reverently tipped his fedora and bowed to each player and singer throughout the show.

Guitarist Mas added mandolin-style arpeggios with a 12-string acoustic, and, heck, he even played the mandolin, accenting Cohen’s European folk influences. Mas played a handful of engaging solos, one during Famous Blue Raincoat, which brilliantly enhanced and didn’t overpower the fragile beauty of the song.

Sometimes all that talent was almost too much of a good thing – high-gloss meets high class, like we weren’t watching Leonard Cohen in concert but Leonard Cohen in Concert: the Musical! (or some similar Broadway-ish title with an exclamation point).

Cohen’s earnest grovel-voiced delivery and modest affections brought it all down to earth. Hallelujah.

-- Julie Garisto, tbt*. Photo: Associated Press (not from Monday's show).

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:14pm]


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