Walter Tunis: Leonard Cohen comes to Louisville; fans in Kentucky sing 'Hallelujah'

Contributing Music WriterMarch 28, 2013 

Old Ideas World Tour in Atlanta

Now 78, poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen is on the most arduous touring schedule of his career.

ROBB COHEN — Robb Cohen/Invision/AP

Leonard Cohen

8 p.m. March 30 at the Louisville Palace, 625 S. Fourth in Louisville. $49.50-$252.50. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or hTicketmaster.com.

It seems fitting that one of the most recently quoted songs by pop poet laureate Leonard Cohen should come from his newest album, a record ironically titled Old Ideas.

The song in question is Going Home. It is essentially a summons by God. That is certainly in keeping with a portion of Cohen's often-fantastical life — specifically, a five-year period during the '90s, when he retreated from songwriting and performance and became an ordained Buddhist monk. That doesn't mean Going Home is at all autobiographical. But it certainly explains some of Cohen's source material.

"I love to speak with Leonard," muses the almighty at the onset of Going Home. "He's a sportsman and shepherd. He's a lazy bastard living in a suit. But he does say what I tell him, even though it isn't welcome. He just doesn't have the freedom to refuse."

Such are the trials and expressions of one of the most heralded songwriters of any pop generation, an artist who after a recording career of more than 45 years finally makes his way to Kentucky. Cohen, a 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, performs Saturday at the Louisville Palace.

Cohen's music has purposely distanced itself from the rock arena for much of the songwriter's professional life. Yet the list of rock, pop and folk notables who have recorded his songs is ridiculously expansive. It includes U2, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, The Neville Brothers, Neil Diamond, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Joan Baez, k.d. lang, Diana Ross, Marc Ribot and My Brightest Diamond, Fairport Convention, Peter Gabriel, Tangerine Dream, Elton John, Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, Billy Joel, Rufus Wainwright, Genesis, Will Oldham and a few hundred other names.

But over the past four years, Cohen has reclaimed and, in a way, redefined his own musical identity by hitting the road for several global tours. Three sublime live recordings have been issued from the tour: 2009's Live in London, 2010's Songs From the Road and the limited-edition 2012 EP disc Live in Fredericton.

"It's wonderful to be gathered here on just the other side of intimacy," speaks Cohen with an exact, crisp baritone at the beginning of Live in London. "I know that some of you have undergone financial and geographical inconvenience."

The same could be said of Saturday's performance in Louisville. Ticket prices top out at an unfathomable $252.50 (you might as well call it $300 after TicketMaster service charges). That's not exactly the kind of pocket change a casual fan (or even some devoted ones) might be willing to shell out. Those who do should know that Cohen, who has never been known for his vocal chops, tends to recite the lyrics to his songs more than sing them. But over the course of his performances, that baritone whisper becomes one of the most distinctive elements in songs that lurk within the darker recesses of love, faith, life and loss.

"I've seen the future, brother," Cohen sings during Live in London's whispery soulful version of The Future. "And it is murder."

Of course, the continued irony is that the future that greeted Cohen after Live in London couldn't have been brighter. Last year, for instance, Old Ideas became the first No. 1 album of his career, unseating for a week the then-unstoppable Adele. Now, at age 78, he leads the most rigorous touring schedule of his career, refashioning one of pop music's most storied legacies into three-plus-hour concerts while adding to it with albums like Old Ideas.

"I was having a drink earlier with my old teacher," Cohen said on Live in London during an introduction to Tower of Song. "He was about 97 at the time. I poured him a drink, he clicked my glass and he said, 'Excuse me for not dying.' I kind of feel the same way."

Where's Marco?

The evolution of jam band favorite Marco Benevento goes on display Thursday at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue. Once an organist in the popular Benevento-Russo Duo, Benevento now summons a symphony of keyboard sounds from an upright piano in a trio that bears his name. And that's just one of the changes. Benevento discusses the directions his newer music is taking this weekend on LexGo.com. (10 p.m. $10 advance, $12 day of show. (859) 309-9499. Cosmic-charlies.com.)

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