Live in Dublin
"The present's not that pleasant," sings Leonard Cohen on Darkness, an unassuming and perhaps unintentional centerpiece tune to Live in Dublin. "Just a lot of things to do."
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As poetic and sleekly disturbing as ever, Cohen remains both the king and jester of his domain. A restless troubadour and distinguished elder who turned 79 just a few weeks after this performance was given in 2013, he has completely renewed himself over the past seven years as a concert artist after a prolonged absence from the stage. Live in Dublin is his latest and most vivid snapshot from the road — a three-CD, 30-song account of a single Irish concert along with an accompanying DVD of the show.
Initially, one might ask if such a package was even necessary. Cohen issued a double-disc live recording in 2009 (Live in London) and a single-disc companion in 2011 (Songs From the Road) that introduced his new performance guise. Live in Dublin replicates much of the repertoire from the earlier albums and utilizes essentially the same band. Even the blue-hued cover art from Live in Dublin seems purposely fashioned after Live in London.
So why the massive and seemingly redundant follow-up? Well, for starters, Live in Dublin augments the set list with songs from Cohen's 2012 studio record, Old Ideas — arguably, his best set of new songs in three decades. It was from Old Ideas that Darkness came. Also from the record we have the bluesy prayer for repentance Amen ("I'm listening... I'm listening so hard that it hurts") and the powerfully contemplative lullaby Come Healing that views mankind largely as a pack of universal bystanders ("none of us deserving of the cruelty or the grace").
Cohen reflected heavily about mortality on Old Ideas. That might make those songs seem removed from such early and outwardly intimate fare as Suzanne, Chelsea Hotel #2 or I'm Your Man, all of which are delivered with sage subtlety on Live on Dublin. But since Cohen has adopted such a slight, sweeping but richly orchestrated sound from his touring band, boundaries between new and old music are blurred quite handsomely.
A beautiful case-in-point comes during the record's third disc, which is devoted to the Irish concert's encore tunes. There, the gentle Old Ideas scolding from God Going Home ("I'd love to speak with Leonard... he's a lazy bastard living in a suit") is paired with the vengeful and earthy doomsday rumination First We Take Manhattan ("I'm coming to reward them").
Of course, romance isn't fully suppressed amid the turmoil. Cohen brings down the curtain on the three-hour Live in Dublin with a cover of Save the Last Dance For Me. But amid the samba-like sway of his band and his own bullfrog whisper of a voice, one senses the song's inclusion is tongue-in-cheek, a tune to whistle as civilization crumbles.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music writer