Always a troubadour 


Leonard Cohen
8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19
Tampa Bay
Performing Arts Center
813-229-7827
$19.50-$252.75

As sad as it was to see Bill Maher so blithely dismiss Leonard Cohen on Real Time With Bill Maher in August ("Leonard Cohen is back!" exclaimed guest Bill Moyers. "Well, Leonard Cohen was never really there for me," replied Maher), it's not terribly surprising. Cohen has not been there for a lot of people. Credit the density and morbidity of his lyrics, the lack of trained musicality in his unusual voice, the reclusiveness of his character. For any number of reasons, Cohen never achieved Dylan-like popularity, despite emerging from the same bohemian folk scene.

Instead, for more than 40 years, Cohen has developed a devout cult of fans who hang on his every erudite breath: poets, countercultural baby boomers, hipsters and film directors
(Robert Altman, Werner Herzog and Lars von Trier have used Cohen songs in their movies). Add to that every music critic on the planet and the legions of listeners tuned into his wavelength thanks in part to the more than 2,000 recorded Cohen covers, from Judy Collins in 1966 to American Idol in 2008.

As has been reported, the impetus for the reclusive singer-songwriter's return to the stage was, at first, primarily financial. One of his former business partners stole most of his money while Cohen, an ordained Buddhist, was away at a mountain monastery in California.

Still, according to Florida native Neil Larsen, Cohen's touring keyboardist, hitting the road has reignited a passion for performing in the spry 75-year-
old artist.

"The whole success of this tour snuck up on myself and a lot of people in the band," says Larsen, a jazz pianist who joined Cohen's band in 2008. "It didn't seem like `Cohen` was sure this was going to go on and on like it has. He didn't know if anyone would come out. It had been so long since he'd been on the road that he'd isolated himself ... from even hearing about his fans or what they thought of him."

The wide swath of Cohen devotees have come out of the woodwork for concerts that, for many, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, His Sept. 24 appearance in Tel Aviv sold out in less than a day. He also drew rave reviews from his European dates last month, despite having fainted midway through "Bird on a Wire" at a show in Valencia, Spain.

"We knew he had been sick that day," says Larsen. "It was still a complete shock when it happened, to see him go down up there. In any event, six or eight of us got the same stomach virus two days later, but almost everyone got it on a day off in Barcelona. We could sit around the hotel and be sick, but he had it on a show day. We had been out for a year and a half, and this is the first show we had to cancel. He knew he was sick, but he didn't want to postpone it, because he didn't want to be the first one to do so.

"He doesn't seem like the kind of guy that requires or wants a lot of money," says Larsen. "But when he sees people's faces in the audience and he sees that he's communicating, you know — once a troubadour, always a troubadour. What else is he going to do?"

music@orlandoweekly.com

More by John Thomason

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