Leonard Cohen – Live in London (Sony)

It’s a widely known secret that Leonard Cohen’s first concert tour in 13 years was prompted by financial woes. When his manager (allegedly) ran off with Cohen’s savings and the publishing rights to his songs, the then-71-year-old had little choice but to hit the road and recoup some of the losses.

Judging from Live in London, though, the tour was far from a mere cash grab. The double-disc set captures Cohen’s entire two-and-a-half-hour performance, stage banter and all, and the result is pure magic.

Cohen is one of those artists who wears his age like a fitted suit, and his gravelly baritone has never sounded better. Even in his early days, he wasn’t so much a singer as a voice — like Bob Dylan, his melodies have always been more implied than sung — but what the voice lacks in melody, it more than makes up for in emotional depth. From the raspy whisper of “Bird on a Wire” to the sinister lecherousness of “Everybody Knows,” Cohen’s performances are never overplayed, but there’s never a moment where you don’t know exactly what he’s thinking.

Though this is clearly Cohen’s show, he’s humble enough to spotlight his band at every turn. Backing vocalist Sharon Robinson and multi-instrumentalist Javier Mas earn multiple plaudits from the veteran singer-songwriter, and rightly so — Robinson, along with Charley and Hattie Webb, enrich every song with their harmonies, and Mas’s gypsy-influenced strings add invaluable colour.

Near the beginning of his set, Cohen jokes that it’s “Wonderful to be gathered here on just the other side of intimacy.” Self-deprecation aside, Live in London is proof that Cohen is a master at seducing, engaging and manipulating his audience. Despite his tour’s fiscal origins, Live in London is as vital as anything in the man’s catalogue.

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