Austin Every Leonard Cohen show could be his last.
Lest you think I'm being overly morbid, the man himself acknowledged as much up front: "I hope we see you again, but if not, we're going to give you everything we've got," he rumbled after the show opener Dance Me to the End of Love.
The Bass Concert Hall crowd cheered -- the intention moreso than the sentiment -- and the 78-year-old Cohen was off, on a three-and-a-half hour excursion across the breadth of his catalog. On the precipice of advanced age, a great many musicians are either fading into irrelevance, or their abilities are ever more diminished (God knows I've seen too much of the latter this year), but Cohen maintains the same, impossibly spry approach to his music he displayed three years ago at the then-Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie.
Thursday was the final installment of the Canadian singer-songwriter's tour-opening, two-night stand in Austin, which will see him heading out across America (but not, sadly, to the DFW area) in support of his latest LP, Old Ideas. The record, released in January, comprised a fair bit of the expansive set list, although the crowd reacted most strongly to the classic material, like Suzanne, Famous Blue Raincoat or Democracy.
Cohen speaks the lyrics a bit more often now than he did three years ago, but was still capable of sending chills down the spine with his singing, as he did during Take This Waltz. His immaculate, bottomless baritone filled the Bass Concert Hall and fairly melted off the walls; a gorgeous, matchless thing riveting your attention to the stage.
Cohen was backed by a band which swelled to as many as 10 members, including his peerless backing vocalists Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb. Whomever was taking a brief moment in the spotlight, Cohen would invariably remove his dark fedora, clasp it over his heart and fix his sharp, searching eyes on the music issuing forth.
As always, he is a man in search of spiritual succor, grappling for truth and beauty in the cold, unforgiving dark of life. His supplication before the soloists -- literally dropping to his knees, again and again -- suggests there is light and hope in the music he helps create on stage each night.
The gloriously indefinable and undeniable sounds of Leonard Cohen even sustains the listener, in a way. Seeing someone of Cohen's stature continue to draw so much evident joy from sharing his art with an adoring audience restores a person's faith in music. "I was born like this/I had no choice," Cohen intoned during Tower of Song, "I was born with the gift of a golden voice." Although the lyric bears a satiric edge, there is truth in its black humor.
Leonard Cohen will carry on, struggling to make peace with himself and his music within the world, filling rooms with his bleak, beautiful and transcendent songs until he cannot anymore.