Leonard Cohen @ Madison Square Garden

MANHATTAN, NY—Leonard Cohen held the crowd in the palm of his hand during a performance that was a mind-bending trip into the Twilight Zone as his songs transcended folk, rock, jazzy bop, gypsy and world beats into one. Standing straight and tall while kneeling every so often, he belted out his plaintive songs and earthy tones as his exquisitely minimalist band filled in the blanks to the gods. Words of wisdom and rhyme, stark and bare, they painted bleak images with rays of hope sprinkled in between the lines.

Dressed in a black suit and wearing a hat most of the night, he cupped the mic like a prayer and sang with his eyes closed as the band’s acoustified playing wove its delicate web around the singer-songwriter’s heavy words. Taking on the contemplative divinity of Van Morrison, the skid row celebrations of Tom Waits and the brooding dark side of Roger Waters, Cohen was ethereal in that he dealt out like a sermon to the misfits, loners, fragile at heart and the hopelessly romantic out there.

For three hours, the crowd sat rapt with eyes and ears transfixed to the stage as Cohen meandered around his players’ perfect arrangements that breathed life into some dusty relics from another era as well as some new gems. Guitar extraordinaire Javier Mas plucked, picked and accentuated the band’s rhythms on command that took on bossa, Latin, tropical rhythms and even rocked out towards the night’s ending. Keyboardist Neil Larsen added a delicate web of notes that cascaded, then fell behind and snaked through the arrangements, adding a bluesy ooze to the mix that mirrored the melancholic sentiments of Cohen’s prose.

The Webb sisters and Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson added background vocals that played off the male-female tensions and conflicts found in a lot of his work. They countered his baritone with assuring highs and mids, softening the blow of Cohen’s mighty lyrics where every word matters.

Starting with “Dance With Me To The End Of Love,” Cohen bowed to guitarist Javier then proceeded to take the crowd on a tiptoe through the tulips of time that combined the flamenco guitar of Mas, the plaintive gypsy violin of Alexandru Bublitchi and the moody flourishes of Neil Larsen’s Hammond organ into a gloriously tidy molt of sounds. He took on his catalog and added some new ones from his last one, Old Ideas, that flowed along with the oldies into a lengthy work that transcended a greatest hits review.

“Suzanne,” “I’m Your Man” and “Hallelujah” were joined alongside new tunes like “Amen” and “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” He poked fun at himself before “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” adding, “I look in the mirror and I say, ‘Lighten up, Leonard!’” Another new track, “Going Home” refers autobiographically to the man himself as a “lazy bastard living in a suit.” For the rest of the night, Cohen worked the stage like a 78-year-old shaman in dapper duds as he genuflected to the crowd and thanked his fellow musicians, lighting crew and soundmen on numerous occasions, who all combined to make the night so spectacular.

By the time the last one ended close to midnight, it was “Closing Time.”