The Wall Street Journal recently dared pose the question: Is it time for Bob Dylan to retire from the road? The same might reasonably be asked of 76-year-old Leonard Cohen, who wrapped what could be his final tour with two nights in Vegas last weekend. But where Dylan’s voice and song alterations inspire debate over his continued abilities whenever he plays, Cohen’s Caesars Palace crowd seemed unified in thought as the three-hour event let out: This was a show for the ages, not an appreciation of the aged.
Though the folk icon’s setlist and song arrangements essentially mirrored those from 2009’s fantastic Colosseum performance, this second stopover felt sharper still. Every number was surely a life highlight for someone in attendance—from sparse late-’60s material like “Suzanne” and “Sisters of Mercy” that best showed off Cohen’s forlorn vocals to late-’80s fare such as “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan” that demonstrated the collective prowess of his nine-piece backing group. For me, the moment proved to be “The Partisan,” a spine-tingling reworking of Cohen’s 1969 cover, featuring the exquisite bandurria work of Javier Mas.
Cohen balanced out the night’s intensity with some lightheartedness, particularly his introduction of drummer Rafael Gayol: “Laying it [the beat] down, bringing it home, smothering it with a pillow, going to prison. He’s recruited by the Aryan Brotherhood. Disillusioned with the quality of their tattoos, he converts to Judaism, but gets excommunicated for lighting the Hanukkah candles in the wrong direction. Spends many years in a halfway house for disgruntled vegetarians, and then joins the softest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.” Forget retirement. The man’s got a second career as a stand-up comic waiting if he wants it.