The Gazette

Let's face it: Until Buddy Holly comes back from the dead, it's highly unlikely any show will ever be truly worth $250.

That was the top price for Leonard Cohen's three sold-out concerts at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts. Still, on Monday night, at his first hometown appearance since 1993, there appeared to be nothing but joy on the faces of the paying customers. So much for Cohen's largely undeserved reputation as the guru of gloom.

The singer and poet alluded to his long absence in a line that has been well publicized but still drew howls of laughter. "I haven't been on a stage here in 14 or 15 years," he deadpanned before easing into a tender and soulful arrangement of Ain't No Cure for Love. "I was 60 years old - a kid with a crazy dream."

To ease the pain of the ticket cost for his homecoming party, Cohen delivered a beautifully selected look back at his entire catalogue that was generous, to say the least - more than three hours, not counting intermission.

Most importantly, Cohen really did the songs. Backed by a wonderful nine-piece band, he has rarely sounded better, singing clearly and with more power than his last couple of albums would have suggested. He confidently climbed the ascending lines of Hallelujah, added some muscle to In My Secret Life and did faithful and hushed renditions of Suzanne and Sisters of Mercy that erased more than 40 years and seemed to have a few wiping away tears.

There was palpable emotion connecting this dapper, utterly charming man, who kept tipping his hat in gratitude for the love, with an audience that would happily have kept him there until the proverbial 4 in the morning (and, yes, he sang Famous Blue Raincoat).

It would be impossible to count how many times the wildly enthusiastic room erupted in spontaneous cheers over favourite lines, like "I was born like this, I had no choice/ I was born with the gift of a golden voice," from Tower of Song. During that song, Cohen pecked out a couple of amusing bluesy solos.

"Vous êtes très généreux, merci," he said dryly when he drew applause for those rudimentary keyboard notes. He also translated a few of his occasional recitations for the occasion.

As he wound down, most appropriately, with I Tried to Leave You, the audience laughed heartily at his song choice: The three-hour mark had just gone by. And when he sang the closing line, "Here's a man still working for your smile," they cheered as loudly as they had all night.

With one last bit of business - a sweet a cappella version of Wither Thou Goest with his band members - Cohen asked his audience to drive home safely, thanked them for their open hearts, took his final small bow, basked in his last standing ovation and left the building.