Towards the end of his life, Leonard Cohen found a youthful passion and exuberance in his work. It was a new vigour for creation that lasted up until his death in 2016 and beyond.
Just last year, his son Adam Cohen comprised an album full of unheard Leonard Cohen songs called Thanks for The Dance. While Adam began the recordings with the iconic star, he completed the album without his father. The same could also be said for Cohen’s live performances, when after a long hiatus, Cohen returned to the stage in 2008 as part of his ‘Grand Tour’ which would last for 387 shows over five years.
Adam Cohen would later reflect on his father’s career with Rolling Stone: “They say that life is a beautiful play with a terrible third act. If that’s the case, it must not apply to Leonard Cohen. Right now, at the end of his career, perhaps at the end of his life, he’s at the summit of his powers.” He was talking in part about Cohen’s live performances.
The Candian’s live shows had transcended from Cohen’s iconoclastic first two acts and begun to settle in a more candid and humourous fashion, pitching the infamously cantankerous singer as a loveable uncle figure. Yet, of course, a loveable uncle with a three hour set jam-packed with some of the most touching and emotive lyrics ever written.
When Cohen arrived at the end of the ‘Grand Tour’, at Auckland’s Vector Arena, the singer had amassed an astonishing 1,110 hours on stage for global audiences. Yet he was still in an equally affable and astounding form, enjoying the company of his audience and seemingly at the top of his game. Little did any of the crowd know that night that his encore would be the last time Cohen would perform on stage.
During the performance that night Cohen had offered a thankful tribute to the stage and his career, “Friends, I want to thank you for the wonderful hospitality you’ve showed us tonight, I want to thank you not just for tonight, but for all the years you’ve paid attention to my songs. I really appreciate it.”
Like many shows on the tour, and a clear indication of the added thread of humour in his live performances, Cohen had been using his encore to deliver a wonderful rendition of ‘I Tried to Leave You’. He also decided, one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known, that he would end his show with a cover of The Drifters’ ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.
He naturally turns the song into his own and the cover is up there with one of the best you’re ever likely to hear. The song ends and Leonard Cohen removes his hat, takes one last bow and walked offstage happy with his work, that night and all the hundreds of others.