Credit: Pieter Morlion

Remembering Leonard Cohen’s emotional final encore at his last ever performance

We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to take a look back at an emotional performance as Leonard Cohen takes to the stage for the final time and delivered a typically unique performance, one which is worthy of the iconic artists final moments under the spotlight.

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. It was an exuberance that had hinted at Cohen’s perceived immortality as a poet being realised—such was its power.

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. It acts as a sonic resurrection of sorts, allowing us to fall a little deeper into Cohen’s iconography.

The same could also be said for Cohen’s live performances, when after a long hiatus, the Canadian musician returned to the stage in 2008 as part of his ‘Grand Tour’ which would last for 387 shows spanned over five years in countless continents.

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 and the complete ‘hear a pin drop’ power that he brought to every performance.

By the time of his death, Cohen’s live shows had transcended from his 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, as capable as buying you a pack of smokes as they were reading Nietzsche to your high school girlfriend. 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, wowing them every step of the way. 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.” It was a simple and sweet message that would be the near-final words Cohen uttered on stage.

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. Considering, unlike many of his contemporaries, Cohen has an aversion to covers, it’s a remarkable moment as he forsakes his own pride and canon of songs for the work of others. Clearly a real poet only needs words, no matter if they are his own or not.

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.

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