NEW YORK (AP) -- Leonard Cohen played his first U.S. concert in 15 years, returning with a two-set, six-encore, three-hour long performance that the singer called "a memorable evening."
The 74-year-old Montreal-born singer, poet and novelist drew countless standing ovations at New York's Beacon Theatre on Thursday night.
"It's been a long time since I stood up on this stage in New York City," Cohen said, addressing the crowd for the first time ten songs in. "I was 60 years-old, just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I've taken a lot of Prozac."
While the audience roared, Cohen proceeded to list a dozen or so more drugs that have comforted him in his old age, as well as his hard study of religions and philosophies, "but cheerfulness kept breaking through."
The concert was much the same, too.
Singing his serene and melancholy ballads, the always well-dressed Cohen performed with passionate restraint, often kneeling as he clutched the microphone — or when standing, his knees bent inward against each other, as if he would otherwise crumble.
He repeatedly doffed his black hat (which naturally matched his black suit) in courtesy to his three backup singers and six-piece backing band, whose talents were often on display in brief, melodic solos throughout the evening.
Cohen cheered the sold-out crowd performing most of his best known material, like, "Suzanne," "So Long, Marianne," "Bird on a Wire," "First We Take Manhattan" and "Hallelujah," which Jeff Buckley famously covered and which more recently has been covered on, of all things, "American Idol."
Cohen's voice has perhaps settled even deeper into the lower registers as time has past, but it has lost nothing of its powerfulness. A long wait to see him perform again is fitting because Cohen is something of a perfectionist, regularly taking more than a year to finish a song.
His lean, taut songs sounded particularly apt in such a time of economic recession. At one point, Cohen told the crowd he understood that hard times were coming, then drolly adding, "some say even worse than Y2K."
Cohen knows something about economic downturns: He is touring partly because he learned in 2005 that his longtime former manager Kelley Lynch, had misappropriated millions from his retirement fund. In 2006, a Los Angeles court awarded him $9.5 million. It's not believed that he recovered any of it.
Cohen has been widely feted in recent years. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, Lou Reed said he was among the "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters." In the 2005 documentary "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man," which featured a tribute concert to Cohen, Bono called him, speaking for music, "our (Percy Bysshe) Shelley, our (Lord) Byron."
Cohen has already toured Canada, Europe and Australia and will continue playing several dozen North America concerts through the spring. A live CD and DVD "Leonard Cohen: Live in London" is to be released March 31.
He isn't far removed from new work, though. Cohen's last book, "Book of Longing," was released in 2006. His most recent studio album was 2004's "Dear Heather."
The song that most resounded at Cohen's Thursday night performance was his "Anthem," which took on meaning for both his music and the current times.
He both recited the lyrics and sang the song: "Ring the bells that can still ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in."
After ringing the bells for three hours, Cohen sang "Goodnight my darling/ I hope I leave you satisfied" and shortly thereafter — breaking from his graceful poise — skipped off the stage.
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