No one thought Leonard Cohen would be touring in 2011, at age 79. Not even Leonard Cohen.
Cohen had retired and was living in a Buddhist retreat when he learned that one of the people who was supposed to be looking after his money had instead embezzled it. Cohen went back on the road because he needed the cash.
"I don't think anyone expected it to go on this long," said his longtime keyboardist, Neil Larsen. "But I think he's creatively comfortable. He's found that he can write in hotel rooms. He's being very prolific."
Larsen, who grew up in Sarasota, will be on stage Monday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa for Cohen's "Old Ideas" tour. It's close to selling out.
It's been four years since Cohen last visited Tampa. Larsen, who was part of that show too, has heard that people here have called that the best concert of their lives.
"You know, I hear that, and I read it in reviews, and it seems kind of over the top," Larsen said. "But then I think, here's this guy with a long legacy of recording who really hasn't done a lot of touring and then he comes out and he does 30 songs and plays
three and half hours."
Part of the appeal, Larsen said, is Cohen's surprisingly warm stage presence and his wry humor.
"He's such a great communicator, " Larsen said. "You really feel like you're getting to know the guy,"
The show this time will include maybe 10-12 songs that weren't part of the 2009 concert, and there will be more emphasis on Cohen himself, and less on his band and backing singers.
One reason Cohen's concerts are so strong, Larsen said, is that Cohen oversees every aspect of the show. He has a vision and does not compromise.
"I think that it works because all the ideas came from one guy," he said. "He spent a lot of time thinking about the look and the feel of the show and what songs he wanted to do, and he auditioned hundreds of musicians before the tour started before he found the ones he wanted."
Details: 8 p.m. March 18, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets: $119.50-$475. Information: strazcenter.org, 813-229-7827.