U2 twice paid tribute to Leonard Cohen Friday night (June 23) during its stadium show for 50,000 people at Rogers Centre in Toronto, right before “Bad,” calling him “an addiction” and injecting “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah” into the song, and later before “One Tree Hill,” when he told a story about attending his 79th birthday. Cohen died in November at age 82.
The band, which has paid its rent every day in the tower of song for the past 40 years and is touring in support of the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album, once joined Cohen on a version of “Tower of Song,” a lyric Bono called a “masterpiece,” and also covered “Hallelujah” on the 1995 tribute album Tower of Song.
Just three songs into U2’s set Friday night, Bono thanked everyone for “letting us back into your lives” and “for letting us back into your magnificent country,” which must’ve triggered thoughts of Cohen and Canada. The poet was born in Montreal, a five-hour drive from Toronto.
“Tonight we hold onto some things, as you let go of some others,” Bono said. “I’m not quite sure how to let it go, but I know tonight I’m holding onto the music of Leonard Cohen, thinking about it today. It’s been on my mind. He’s an addiction I’m not ready to give up, so I’m going to sing this one to Leonard Cohen.”
He then launched into “Bad” from 1984’s Unforgettable Fire: “If you twist and turn away / If you tear yourself in two again /If I could, yes I would / If I could, I would / Let it go / Surrender / Dislocate.”
After another verse, he said again that he’s not ready to let go.
“Can you turn the spots off,” he then asked his lighting person.
“Just think. Think of Leonard. He called us friends. Really, we were just fans. That was okay by me. For Leonard Cohen. Stay with me,” he remarked as thousands of phones lit up the stadium, whose roof was open against the Toronto skyline.
“That’s beautiful. Stars coming out for Leonard. Different part of the country, but you know he loved this city. Stay with me now. I want to try something,” he said, and started singing Cohen’s ’60s classic “Suzanne.”
“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
But you know that she will trust you.”
When he got to the line “For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind,” bassist Adam Clayton, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and guitarist the Edge ramped things up, and Bono screamed “hallelujah,” a reference to Cohen’s most popular song. He went back into ”I’m not sleeping” from “Bad,” then the word “hallelujah” again.
“Sing with me,” he commanded, singing “hallelujah” over and over. The whole place lit up.
Later, 13 songs into the set — and nine songs into The Joshua Tree’s chronological track list — Cohen was again on Bono’s mind. “One Tree Hill,” the song he wrote after the death of his roadie in a motorcycle accident, was dedicated last month at the Rose Bowl in California to the late Chris Cornell and three days later in Houston to the victims of the Manchester bombing. In Toronto, he told a story about attending Cohen’s 79th birthday.
“I asked him, ‘Leonard, what do you want to do on your 80th ? Have you made any plans?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I want to smoke a cigarette.'” Bono said, “But you’d given up cigarettes for 27 years,” but Cohen looked forward to this handmade, hand-rolled tobacco cigarette. “I’m just going to have one,” he told Bono.
“We could all be so lucky to live a life like that,” Bono concluded before launching into “One Tree Hill.”