Leonard Cohen doesn’t have fans; he has worshipers. And while there have never been quite enough of them to make any of the Canadian poet’s 11 albums big moneymakers, there are certainly enough to fill the Wiltern to overflowing two nights in a row.
Cohen gets a standing ovation when he starts a show — for having survived to get there, as much as anything else. At 59, he has become the elder statesman of angst. The poet laureate of pain. Edith Piaf with chest hair.
For three hours, Cohen and an exquisite six-piece backing band (plus two vocalists) worked out his Tom-Waits-with-a-hangover voice on his it’s-either-poetry-or-suicide lyrics. He played a little one-handed keyboard, picked a little flamenco guitar.
But mostly he just stood there, in his tasteful dark suit, and healed the psychic walking wounded by being one of them. The show leaned heavily on material from the last two Columbia albums, “I’m Your Man” and “The Future.”
And “I’m Your Man” contains some wonderful material: “First We Take Manhattan ,””Everybody Knows,””Tower of Song.” But some listeners would have given their eyeteeth for a taste of classics like “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” or “The Stranger Song.”
Most listeners were also hungry for more human contact than Cohen’s scripted song introductions provided. There was no extemporaneous chat in the whole set.
If this were your only experience with the singer/songwriter, you’d come away thinking he’s some dour religioso, taking himself far too seriously. In fact, Cohen is perfectly aware of his image, finds it amusing, and normally goofs on it with deliciously dry humor.
Staged with elegant lighting (complete with stained-glass colors) and accompanied by stellar players (kudos especially to sax/keyboardist Paul Ostermayer), the show was perfectly attuned to the upper-demo crowd. The impeccably behaved audience acted like they were at the Philharmonic … or in church. “Your pain is no credential/It’s just the shadow of my wound,” sang Cohen, as his logo — a heart and handcuffs — glowed on the wall. And he touched your perfect body with his mind.