DVD/Album Review: Leonard Cohen - Live in Dublin

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Leonard Cohen has previously released five live albums and three concert DVDs, and much of that material preserves performances from the past few years, so do we really need this new video? I’d say yes.

For one thing, this is the only high-definition recording of a recent show. Live in London, from 2009, while expansive, career-spanning and wonderfully performed, is a standard-definition video that suffers from a 4:3 aspect ratio; 2010’s Songs from the Road, meanwhile, offers widescreen video and pristine sound but contains only a dozen songs; moreover, they represent isolated clips from 11 different concert venues.

By contrast, Live in Dublin provides a one-stop shop for everything you could want from a Cohen performance video. It delivers a full September, 2013 show from one venue—Dublin’s 02 Arena—and presents it in high-definition. (Three accompanying CDs offer an audio-only version of the same concert.) Moreover, while the wide-ranging program duplicates many selections from the earlier concerts, it also includes key performances that the older videos didn’t feature.

Some of Cohen’s vocals here seem a bit less energized and full-bodied than those on the prior collections, but the new concert nevertheless proves satisfying and powerful. As usual, the artist seems to be in love with his audience, which he thanks repeatedly and effusively, and with his accompanists, whom he introduces several times and praises lavishly.

He says early in the show that “I don’t know when we’ll meet again but I promise you that tonight we'll give you everything that we got.” He certainly does that, offering a wide assortment of his best-loved material from the past four decades, including “Bird on the Wire,” “Suzanne,” “Tower of Song,” “Chelsea Hotel #2,” “Famous Blue Raincoat” and the inevitable “Hallelujah.”

Highlights abound. There’s a cathartic “So Long, Marianne,” for example, and a powerful reading of the recent “Going Home,” a song that finds Cohen in full possession of his ability to balance humor with poignant verse. And then there’s the surprise concert closer: a lilting, playful reading of Doc Pomus’s classic “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

Throughout, Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb provide sweet harmonies that offer an ideal counterpoint to Cohen’s sandpapery, impossibly deep vocals. (Sharon and the Webbs also get well-deserved turns in the spotlight.) The instrumentalists are uniformly superb, though violinist Alex Bublitchi and Javier Mas, on multiple string instruments, stand out.

Cohen performs two 11-song sets, followed by several encores with a total of eight additional numbers. (The DVD adds three bonus tracks from Canadian gigs earlier the same year.) You keep thinking it’s over but he keeps coming back—for three full hours. That’s about the length of today’s Springsteen shows and about twice the length of many others. Not bad for a guy who was 78 at the time. Near the end, he apologizes to his undoubtedly tired audience for keeping them up so late and then skips his way off the stage. Remarkable.

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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