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Coachella 2009: Leonard Cohen's spiritual oasis

April 18, 2009 |  7:43 am


I have to confess I was feeling pretty skeptical at the thought of seeing Leonard Cohen outdoors in the desert for a mere one-hour Coachella set, just a week after taking in the full breadth of a 3 1/2-hour theatrical evening with the granddaddy of rock 'n' roll poets.

I should have known better.

What was sacrificed in the way of time spent in his soul-deep presence last week at the Nokia Theatre was largely compensated for with the desert surroundings, palm trees bathed in the crimson shades of the setting sun around the Empire Polo Field.

The songs were all gems, and with an adoring standing-room crowd of thousands spread before the 74-year-old Canadian wordsmith, his Coachella performance gained an intimacy and power that the cavernous and sterile Nokia couldn't touch.

He delivered the selections pretty much identically to the L.A. Show, except for the unexpected locale reference humorously dropped into "Hallelujah": "I didn't come to Coachella to fool ya," a moment that was about as close as he gets to spontaneity.

However meticulously rehearsed it might have been, "Hallelujah" became an exceptionally powerful communal experience, most of the onlookers joining in on the chorus like a shared prayer.

A religious experience in the desert -- who'd have thought?

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Leonard Cohen. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times