Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2009

Leonard Cohen plays the O2 in Dublin



Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin.  Without introduction apart from a gracious bow, Lenny and his band launch into his mid-eighties classic, and I can see this is going to be a good one.  Leonard looks fit.  He looks fresh.  A little older, a little leaner, a little more self-effacing, but always with a hint of devilment.

It’s the same band as last year.  There’s Rafael Gayol on the drums —  our timekeeper, as Lenny calls him.  There are the Webb Sisters, Charley and Hattie, on vocals and acrobatics.  Sharon Robinson is here, Lenny’s collaborator on his later albums.  Out front, and seated as always, is Javier Mas on Bandurria and 12-string guitar.  Behind him, playing every known wind instrument, and a few as yet uninvented,  is Dino Soldo.  Behind Dino, on pedal steel and electric guitar, is Bob Metzger.  To Lenny’s right is Roscoe Beck, on electric and upright bass, the musical director of our little ensemble, as Lenny describes him.  And on a raised platform beside the drummer is Neil Larsen on keyboards, piano and accordion.

The sound, as always, is purer than ice and warmer than mulled wine.

Lenny smiles a lot, and he wears the same sharp suit, the same fedora that he doffs in respect and holds to his breast.  He wears the same cheeky, self-deprecating grin, and his voice is maple syrup  laced with  sand.

My young companion is transfixed as Leonard weaves his gentle, careful magic and draws us into his world.  She was raised on this man’s music though she didn’t know it at the time, and now, through this back-catalogue of greatness, every song plucks another string of memory.  Bird on the Wire.  The Future.  Sisters of Mercy.  First We Take Manhattan.  Everybody Knows.

Lenny talks about the difficult times we live in, and how privileged we are to be able to come together like this.  There is a crack, he reminds us.  A crack in everything.  It’s how the light gets in, and the band strikes up Anthem.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

The sentiment seems appropriate in these uncertain times.

Lenny doesn’t just put on a show tonight.  It’s a display  A concert.  A recital.

He takes us through his musical lifetime, a gallery of hymns to laughter, hope, love, despair, longing, but never anger, never bitterness.  Lenny gives us no terror.

He kneels beside Javier Mas, from Barcelona, and together they unpick the threads of Lorca’s poem, and Cohen’s reworking: Take This Waltz.

He takes us to the mountains with The Partisan, a song he wrote at a time when he believed fascism could be overthrown by music.  Men will come from the shadows.

He gives us his Jewish prayer, Who By Fire.

He strikes up Suzanne, and it could have been written yesterday, by this  mystical Jewish Buddhist unbeliever who sings equally of Jesus and Isaac as if he has a beer with them after work.  … and when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him, he said all men shall be sailors then until the  sea shall free them.

He stands before us, alone, and recites A Thousand Kisses Deep,

You came to me this morning
And you handled me like meat.
You’d have to be a man to know
How good that feels, how sweet

And as we all laugh, he blinds us with the second verse

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat.
I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet,
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique –
With all he is, and all he was
A thousand kisses deep

We’re stunned and silenced as he stands there in the spotlight, alone with his heart bleeding onto the stage in front of us.

On If It Be Your Will, he speaks the first few lines and stands back in respectful shadow, head bowed towards them as Charley Webb plays guitar, Hattie plucks harp and Neil Larsen accompanies their singing.  I heard this in the open air last year, the perfection of two sisters’ voices intertwining in one beautiful song, and I was spellbound.  This time I was dumbstruck and so was everyone else who heard it.

My daughter gasps as he begins to sing I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord.

Of course!  Hallelujah!  You keep forgetting that you’re in the presence of greatness.  You forget that down there on the stage is the self-deprecating, immensely courteous king of Cool.  He that man.

Lenny flirts all the time.

If you want a doctor I’ll examine every precious little inch of you.  All the  women giggle and he cracks a sly little smile as he chuckles:   I’m your man, and they all sing along while Lenny grins.  We all know Lenny’s story and who wouldn’t like to live within the history of that smile?

I lean over to my child: What’s not to like about this guy?

She laughs.  I know.

Lenny was always a dirty bastard and they love him for it.  This is the man, after all,  who wrote  She’s a hundred but she’s wearing something tight.

This is the man who wrote For something like a second I’m cured and my heart is at ease.

This, I’m afraid,  is the man who wrote You were KY jelly.  I was Vaseline.

Dirty bastard, but we love him.

The whole damn place goes crazy twice, and it’s once for the Devil and it’s once for Christ but somewhere along the way, he slips into the haunting and enigmatic Famous Blue Raincoat, with a smoky tenor sax and a gentle undulating melody, hinting at immense betrayals and painful forgiveness.  He mocks himself in Tower of Song: I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice, and he accompanies himself on the small keyboard that he’s been carrying around for 20 years.  Somebody whoops at the little repetitive musical figure Lenny’s playing and he chuckles again, missing his cue.  As the band marks time he nods to the heckler: You’re so very kind, and he gives a little laugh.

I don’t believe in any God, but I imagine if he did exist, he’d be a lot like Leonard Cohen.  Sharp-dressed, funny, a little lop-sided, not too full of himself, and immensely kind.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from last night.  Would he live up to last year’s masterpiece?  Would it be better to remember him at the height of his powers?

Well, I’ll tell you what: he didn’t just live up to it.  He got better and there’s no sign of him stopping.


We jump in a taxi outside and the driver is the usual taciturn, uncommunicative class of individual we have come to expect. For three blocks not a word is spoken, but then he turns to me.

Was he any good?

Leonard Cohen?


Oh, he was great.  I really enjoyed it.  Did you ever hear him?


Yeah. I heard him in 1981.  In Montreal.  As a matter of fact, I painted his house.

Then he touches the stereo and suddenly we’re surround-sounded by Democracy is Coming to the USA.

Small world, isn’t it?


I can’t do a set-list this time because I didn’t take any notes, but here are some of the songs as best I can recall.  I’m sure I’ve left some out.

Dance Me

Bird on the Wire

The Future

Who By Fire

A Thousand Kisses Deep

If It Be Your Will



So Long Marianne

Take This Waltz

First We Take Manhattan

The Sisters of Mercy

The Partisan

Hearty With No Companion


Boogie Street (sung by Sharon Robinson)

Ain’t No Cure For Love

Secret Life

Waiting for the Miracle

Tower of Song

I’m Your Man

Famous Blue Raincoat

Closing Time

I Tried To Leave You

40 thoughts on “Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2009

  1. Going to see Len on Wednesday myself. Saw him last year (and in National Stadium ’86). Tomorrow may not match the extraordinary atmosphere of the gigs of 2008 in Dublin but it will be a fantastic gig that will satisfy the real fans that have been loyal (the ones that know his stuff beyond “Suzanne” in the 60s) and have known the Cohen of the 80’s and 90’s

  2. Didn’t spot you there Bock,
    What a great gig, I think in some ways it was better than Kilmainham ’08.
    Ten people on that stage and every one of them at the top of their game.

  3. Sunrise — Thanks. Did.

    Jethro — You’ll have a ball. I wish I was going again.

    Psycho — That’s how it goes. First class.

    Unstranger — I doubt it very much.

    Rosarie — Sure did.

    FT Duck — I was the dribbling idiot singing along with Lenny.

  4. No, but obviously he plays a lot of the same songs. Look at last year’s post and you’ll see the difference. I’ll put up a setlist, as best I can recall, but I didn’t take note of the order.

  5. was there last night ,fantastic gig , did nt think he could top the kilmainham shows but i think he did , WOW still on a high . roll on sunday when i will see him one more time in belfast .

  6. Monday night in my opinion was awesome, I do not think lenny is one bit frail he is suffering with a cold, my wife had her camera with her and she blew up some of the shots and in front of the drums you could see the bottles of medication. We thought Kilmainham would never be surpassed well as many have commented , it has, he just keeps getting better and better, he is like a good wine. If Springstein is the boss, Lennie is without doubt the one and only MASTER. Enjoyed it so much, I am bringing my 16 year old son on thursday night . I want him to witness history as these nights are very very special, one word AWESOME. Thanks Rach for the tickets.

  7. Thanks for the taster, Bock. Can I ask you what the O2’s enforcement of the no camerasâ policy was like? I’ve never been (only Leonard Cohen could get me to go there) and I’m guessing that it won’t be like Kilmainham on that score. I’m going on Thursday night.

  8. Hi, I was there on Sunday night too – what can I say, the first time I ever saw him in concert, but I’ve liked him since I was 17 or thereabouts. It was truly magnificent. Thinking of going again tonight with my sister. Reading your reviews, it was like living it all over again. Thank you

  9. What can I tell you What can I possibly say. Was there on Monday. Too much!! I didn’t think Kilmainham could be surpassed, but it was. My three sons 27 – 31 are going tonight 23rd and every bit as enthusiastic as I am. Leonard was part of my youth and I am proud to have succeeded in handing him down to my sons. The respect he shows to his musicians, the sublime Webb sisters and Sharon Robinson, not to mention the audience contains such learnings. His humility is something that should be studied by power mongers. I learned from Lenny in my teens and am still learning from him. Still ecstatic and would love to be going along tonight. Thanks Bock for helping me relive the gig just as you did with Kilmainham. Enjoy everybody. Brid

  10. Loved this concert and venue great too. What was his closing song, his lullaby ? Do you know the title?

  11. Saw him last night. Was just as good as last year. Was delighted he played famous Blue raincoat and the Partisan as we missed out on them last year. Love the story of the cab driver. Made you evenings end perfect…

  12. Saw him in Liverpool and then again on Sunday in Dublin. Thought Dublin was the better concert. The whole audience singing along to “So Long Marianne” was a highlight as well as thousands of women wishing he WAS their man. Hope to see him again (possibly at his 80th birthday concert!!)

  13. Long live the poet and the maestro, I enjoyed every second, as did my friends, magic night. I hope I see this man play into his 80s…

  14. Went to see the big L.C. on Wednesday in the 02, magnificent , saw him in Kil last summer and thought there is no way he could top that concert but he was every bit as good. The best part of the whole day was I MET LEONARD COHEN outside the Gresham Hotel and shook hands, he spoke briefly and he was very kind, me and my friend told him we were going to his concert that evening and that we were thrilled to meet him, he smiled and said thank you very much in his ever so calm, smooth, sexy voice. I was a bit taken aback with his stance, he looked so small and fragile, until he skipped on to the stage that evening, he is far from fragile. So best day yet of 2009, to think i met L.C. LOL.

  15. Thanks for that, Great review. Just a small point, Len didn’t write The Partisan. He learned it at a summercamp he worked at one summer during his teens.

  16. Thank you for the information. That’s something I didn’t know.

    He seems to have modified the song quite a bit, including writing the English lyrics, so I suppose you could say there’s a fair amount of Lenny in it.

  17. leonard Cohen , thank you ,, a thousand kisses to you .. the most wonderful poet and wordsmith
    words will never describe how you leonard cohen got all of us .. got all of us ,, again thank you

    love you ,, love you

  18. I’m sorry to have to inform one of Lenoard Cohens fans. Leonard did not write the partisan. It was written by a French husband and wife team, second world war resistance fighters, one of whom died in that conflict. More information about the song can be located in a Wobblies ( workers of the world unite) song book called songs of the the people.

  19. I know it’s a long time since the comment re Leonard in the National Stadium was posted, but anyway, the gig was in 88 I think not 86. Was an amazing gig. We were front row upstairs and he was superb – a real revelation. I had never seen him live before and didn’t realise how witty and clever and sexy – and goddamn talented he was live. The rapport between him and the backing singers was fantastic – they were so in tune with him and not just musically. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to

    Saw him again the first time he came to Kilmainham Dublin and he was wonderful again. Not quite as wonderful as the Stadium, when he held the entire audience in the palm of his hand from the very first moment to the last. The place only seated a few hundred – it was an amazingly intimate gig to enjoy with such a talented performer… and it felt like we could reach out and touch him…. what a singer, poet, songwriter. If I was stuck on a desert island and could only bring one piece of music, it’d be one of his.

  20. You are right, Una. There was a Leonatd Cohen gig in 1988. The gig I was at was actually in March 1985 and not ’86.

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