Leonard Cohen operated in a realm of his own. Not subjected to pointless categorisation or knee-jerk genre definitions, Cohen always worked as a societal observer, choosing his favoured medium to make his humane points about love, loss, living and the inevitability of death. Whether in his early incarnations as a poet and novelist or when, inspired by somebody else’s sexual conquest, he decided to pick up the guitar and turn his hand at songwriting, Cohen was always unique.
Naturally then, when he took to the stage, his performances would be gilded with golden individuality and a sincere authenticity to the art at hand. Cohen’s live performances are stuff of legend. Not needing the brash thrash and thud of rock ‘n’ roll to garner excitement, Cohen used his incredible wit and searing songwriting intelligence to play the room effectively. It’s something perfectly capture within this 178-track playlist.
Comprised of all the singer’s famous live albums, from 1973’s classic Live Songs all the way up until last year’s double release The Moon’s Too Bright and Poet in Amsterdam, through the playlist below we get a taste of exactly what it was like to watch Leonard Cohen perform live. And, judging by that playlist, we’d say it may well have been one of the purest expressions of pop music ever delivered.
Cohen has enjoyed some sensational performances during his lifetime and most of them have been represented within this playlist. From his iconic late ’00s tour, when he rediscovered not only his audience but his self-wroth in relation to songwriting (noted below in the live performances from Dublin and London) all the way back to quite possibly his most perfect live performance of all, at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, the playlist is simply perfect.
Though there is a range of different dates collected within the playlist, it’s hard to look past that iconic gig as the highlight. The third Isle of Wight Festival wouldn’t have the happy ending that previous years had enjoyed. The event was besieged by a gigantic crowd of over half a million, way over the 150,000 tickets they had actually sold and forced the organisers to make the event free for all. It was a bold move that had been replicated at places like the Summer Jam at Glen Watkins farm and, of course, Woodstock. It was also a move that incited riots and forced the Isle of Wight residents to endure an onslaught of hippie power, all while sending crowds into a frenzied almost uncontrollable state.
That is until Leonard Cohen took to the stage and beguiled a mass of heaving bodies into a unified awestruck heap. After five days and nights of rioting, burning, and pillaging, according to many of the residents there, only one man could quell the audience. Cohen arrived to calm proceedings and deliver one of the most captivating performances of modern music.
The crowd, as well as being drunk and disorderly (what festival isn’t) were also five days and nights deep into mob rule and had begun booing artists off stage without so much as a moment’s thought. Cohen’s friend Kris Kristofferson suffered this fate after being hit by a barrage of bottles and there was a fear that, following Hendrix, Cohen could befall the same fate, “They were booing everybody,” said the singer, “Except Leonard Cohen.”
It’s just one of many stunning performances where one can truly witness the value in Cohen’s onstage delivery. He wasn’t a showman but he was captivating, he wasn’t a funny guy but he delivered golden lines of joy between songs, he never truly craved the spotlight but it shaped him most perfectly. Cohen operated on stage, as he always had done off it, with a unique sincerity that confirmed if the audience wasn’t there to watch him, he’d be happy playing to an empty room.
Throughout the 178-track playlist below, you’ll find out this and much, much more.