Celine Dion. Bette Midler. Cher. Leonard Cohen?
Few convergences along this city’s strange, 65-year musical odyssey have been quite as peculiar as last Thursday’s pairing of reclusive folk-rock legend and center-Strip casino venue. And Las Vegas—at least, some combination of locals and tourists—took notice, filling the 4,000-seat Caesars Colosseum near capacity for an experience that lived up to its transcendent potential in almost every way imaginable.
“I don’t know when we’ll pass this way again, but it is our intention to give you everything we have tonight,” the 75-year-old Cohen promised early, then lived up to his word, galloping offstage only after tallying 28 numbers, three encores and multiple standing ovations, altogether spanning more than three hours.
The expansive room, past home to cable-harnessed performers and mammoth LCD screens, was wisely scaled back for the night, curtained down to a modest center space from which Cohen, his six-piece band and three backing vocalists operated as if working a small theater. Though the sound surely should have been more enveloping, it still arrived to ears throughout the three-level hall in impeccable condition, so that each twisted and powerful word could be easily discerned, and rightfully cherished.
Clenching his microphone in one bony hand and clutching at something unseen with the other, Cohen gathered strength as the night progressed, the forceful gaze beneath his charcoal hat gradually redirecting from some point of inner focus near his feet to the sea of bodies before him. That audience sat in silent attention, enraptured by the time-ripened, deep and dark voice capable of filling hearts with warmth and dread in the very same breath. Sparse early-career material like “Sisters of Mercy,” “The Partisan” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” best harnessed the evening’s elegance, but Cohen’s more upbeat stuff—“First We Take Manhattan,” “Closing Time” and such—hardly killed the mood (okay, Sharon Robinson’s impressively sung but wholly unneeded lead vocal, “Boogie Street,” kinda did, but one misstep out of 28 ain’t bad).
More highlights? A chilling, spoken rendition of “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” Javier Mas’ gorgeous 12-string laud solo, lit so his shadow projected above the band, to open “Who by Fire.” Cohen’s Janis Joplin story, introducing “Chelsea Hotel #2”: “She said, ‘I’m looking for Kris Kristofferson.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re in luck, kid. I’m Kris Kristofferson.’” Two new songs, one down-tempo and despairing, the other a lilting slow-blues churn. And, of course, “Hallelujah,” during which Cohen improvised, “I did not come to the Palace at Caesars to fool ya.”
No, Mr. Cohen, the only fools are those who didn’t attend, though perhaps they can’t be blamed. We saw you with our own eyes, and it’s still hard to believe you were actually here.