Leonard Cohen – review

O2, London

Early on in Leonard Cohen's three-and-a-half-hour set, a woman strides up to the stage to deposit a pair of green pants. Then she walks back as briskly as she arrived. No further underwear follows; none is required. To worship the idol is to have already checked your knickers at the door.

This was a prayer meeting, not only for the crowd. Cohen spent a good third on his knees, feet neatly crossed behind him, returning upright without puff or stagger. When he's vertical, he's still somehow bowed, clenching his fists as he sing-jogs, strange proportions (elongated upper leg, then titchy from knee to ankle) suggesting a drunken boxer. When one of his band plays a solo, he stands and clasps his fedora to his chest, baring an angelic silver buzzcut. "I deeply appreciate it," he says, over and over, in the wake of applause, joining his paws, shutting eyes in supplication.

Such is the reverence, so eager are people not to miss a beat, that they don't even sing along. Every song – all the hits, plus a handful from last year's Old Ideas – beams out pure, with a slight sibilant echo from the O2's walls. Tonally, it's heavy on the klezmer, with lots of airtime for Moldavian violin and Spanish mandolin, along with gongs and corking organ. The set reaches its pinnacle with a miraculous hat-trick of I'm Your Man, Hallelujah and Take This Waltz, just before the six-song encore, ending with a cover of the Drifters' Save the Last Dance for Me. His voice is bassier than ever. A Thousand Kisses Deep is so deep it's as if it's being sung by a submarine.

Even the patter is deep. Don't look in a magnifying mirror unless you're under 11. Don't peer too enthusiastically if you're sat in the gods. He is looking forward to his 80th next year, he says, when he can take up smoking again. It'll be part of the show: a nurse in stockings will carry on a packet of fags. He'll inhale and, before she leaves, he'll ask her to tap out some of the bubbles in his IV. The crowd laugh with something close to ecstasy. And then, he's gone, skipping off stage like a leprechaun, no nurse required.

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Catherine Shoard

The GuardianTramp

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