Leonard Cohen’s new concert DVD Songs From the Road just shouldn’t work. Its subject is a rock star who is 75 years old who never quite fit the rock-star mold in the first place—Canadian (okay, cheap shot there), poet, introspective, reserved, a crooner with a weird voice. Onstage he just sort of—well, stands there and sings, usually with eyes closed and face half-obscured by a completely un-ironic fedora. He and his musicians hardly move. His most famous song, “Hallelujah,” is revered, but usually in cover form courtesy of the beautiful, tragic voice of Jeff Buckley. His influences range from traditional Eastern European ballads to folk to cabaret to sacred music. And no two songs sound the same.
And what songs they are. Sanders wisely chooses to hit audiences early with “Bird on a Wire.” Those who are not already fans of Cohen may only be vaguely aware of the song, but it’s a masterpiece (Kris Kristofferson once said he wanted the song’s first line inscribed on
his tombstone). A perfectly curated mix of old (the classic “Suzanne”) and new (“That Don’t Make it Junk”) follows, with a killer one-two closing punch of the aforementioned “Hallelujah” (I still like Cohen’s own version better than any of the covers) and “Closing Time” (the Cohen song, not the Tom Waits song).
Fans will recognize the film’s title as an homage to Cohen’s classic album Songs From a Room. It doesn’t quite live up to those lofty standards, but for those unfortunate enough to have missed Cohen’s monumental tour last year, this film is the next best thing.