The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years

From Led Zeppelin's U.S. debut to Jay Z and Kanye West's 'Watch the Throne' spectacle, and beyond

Load Previous
Leonard Cohen Worldwide Tour
50
Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns/Getty44/50

Leonard Cohen Worldwide Tour

It started as a financial rescue mission. After Leonard Cohen learned, at age 70, that his manager/sometime-lover had absconded with most of his life savings, he realized that his only chance of replenishing his funds was to go on tour. Cohen wasn't sure how many fans he had left, so he first agreed only to a test run of theater dates in far-flung Canadian towns.

Though he'd never
 much enjoyed touring,
 Cohen was a unique
ly charismatic live performer. Even those first shows stretched past the two-hour mark, mixing elegant rearrangements of 1960s classics like "Suzanne" and "Bird on the Wire" with more recent tunes like "Waiting for the Miracle" and "Boogie Street." His voice had deepened considerably, but that only gave it more authority and character. "It's like he was whispering into your ear," says longtime backup singer Sharon Robinson.

The shows were spectacular, and word-of-mouth spread quickly. By 2009, Cohen was selling out arenas all over Europe, and eventually he hit 20,000-seaters in America, including Madison Square Garden. The tour eventually ran for 387 shows across five years. Even as he neared his 80th birthday, he kept adding new songs and stretching the running time to three and a half hours, even skipping offstage before the encores. "Leonard was really good at conserving his strength and blocking out distractions and prioritizing his energy," says Robinson. "He lived an almost monastic lifestyle even though he wasn't a real monk."

By the time he played his final show, in Auckland, New Zealand, Cohen had gone from cult favorite to cross-generational icon. After he closed that performance with a sprightly "Save the Last Dance for Me," he doffed his hat, took a deep bow and walked off the stage, smiling. "I want to thank you," he said to the audience. "Not just for tonight, but for all the years you've paid attention to my songs." A.G.

Back to Top