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The best of Leonard Cohen live 

Editorial Staff

Written by Chris Dart

We can't honour Leonard Cohen without spending some time looking at his almost five decades' worth of live material. Here are some of his best live performances from 1968 until now.

'Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,' (BBC, 1968)

There’s something really lovely about the way Cohen and Julie Felix’s voices contrast each other here.

'The Partisan,' (French television, 1969)

One of the really inspiring things about Cohen is how long he'd been making music before he had any success at all. He started doing it seriously in 1956, but didn’t release an album until 1967, when he was 33. Here he is, 13 years into his career, but only two years into his commercial success, on French TV.

'Bird on a Wire' (Isle of Wight, 1970)

That is a great way to introduce a song. We’re not quite sure what it means, but it sounds great. Watch it here.

'Suzanne' (Bird on a Wire, 1972)

This is an excerpt from the 1972 Cohen documentary, Bird on a Wire. While the performance is great, what’s really interesting here is the preamble, in which Cohen serenely describes getting hustled out of the rights to the song.

'Suzanne' (PBS, 1976)

This video is actually less about Cohen and more about Judy Collins. Listen to how different the song sounds when she takes over. Go ahead and compare it to the previous "Suzanne" clip. That said, that his work lends itself so well to being interpreted by others says a lot about Cohen’s skill as a songwriter.

'Famous Blue Raincoat' (West German TV, 1979)

We like how Cohen manages to use a fair bit of accompaniment in this song, while still keeping the overall sound super soft and gentle. We also appreciate that his dedication to fashion is so strong, he's willing to wear a shearling bomber under studio lights.

'First We Take Manhattan' (Roskilde Festival, 1988)

"First We Take Manhattan" is one of the most un-Cohen Cohen songs ever. It’s so synthy and borders on danceable. It really comes out in this clip from Roskilde in 1988. It sounds like a spoken-word performance overtop a Pet Shop Boys concert. It’s amazing.

'Democracy' (BBC, 1993)

Another example of Cohen not sounding at all like Cohen. Listen to that full, lush backing band. We’d like to point out, he was 59 when he did this, so think about that the next time you’re wondering if you’re too old to reinvent yourself.

'Hallelujah' (Montreal International Jazz Festival, 2008)

We were trying to figure out when Cohen started his current “I always wear this fedora” phase, and 2008 seems to be it. Here he is doing a super heartfelt, Wurlitzer-heavy version of his best known song, wearing his best known hat.

'First We Take Manhattan,' (Holland, 2013)

Since when is Cohen whimsical or playful? What kind of world are we living in when the mournful Bard of Montreal pulls out a toy monkey onstage? We’re not sure, but we think we like it.