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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Folk singer Leonard Cohen skipped onto the stage on Thursday at his first U.S. concert in 15 years, cracking jokes about his advanced age and the lusty themes of some of his hit songs.
The three-hour, six-encore concert at New York's Beacon Theater marked Cohen's first U.S. concert since he stopped touring to become a Buddhist monk, only to be forced back on the road after he lost his retirement savings.
The 74-year-old Canadian, dressed in a black suit and hat, performed hit songs "Bird on the Wire," "Suzanne,' "In My Secret Life," "Hallelujah," "Everybody Knows," and "So Long Marianne," to standing ovations.
Performing the poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep," he paused knowingly on the line: "I'm old but I'm still into that" prompting the crowd to erupt into whoops and applause.
"It's been a long time since I stood up on a stage in New York," he said, quipping that he had been 60 then, "just a kid with a dream."
Cohen has been on tour since May, performing in Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Born in Montreal, he started his musical career in New York, after modest success as a poet and novelist.
He rose to fame in the 1960s with songs about sex, faith and betrayal performed in a deep baritone he once described in a song as "the gift of a golden voice." His best-known song, "Suzanne," was a hit for Judy Collins.
Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
He retreated to a California monastery in the 1990s to study Zen, but "cheerfulness kept breaking through," he told the crowd.
Cohen resurfaced in 2005, claiming that his former manager and lover Kelley Lynch had misappropriated more than $5 million, reducing his retirement account to $150,000.
A Los Angeles court awarded him a $9 million civil judgment, but he has reportedly not been able to collect.
"I think that hard times are coming. Some people say that it's going to be even worse than Y2K," he joked, referring to concerns, which proved unfounded, that a computer glitch would cause devastation at the start of the year 2000.
While the concert was something of a homecoming for Cohen, he often gave the spotlight to his bandmates. His back-up vocalists, including longtime songwriting collaborator Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters, had cameo performances.
On April 2 he will launch a North American tour in Austin, Texas, that will also take in Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Quebec City and Ottawa.
He will return to New York on May 16 for a concert at Radio City Music Hall.
In a lengthy thank-you at the end of the concert, Cohen thanked not only his band but also the technicians and "Lisa, who takes care of our hats."
"I want to thank you for the warm hospitality," he told the crowd. "It was a memorable evening, and I won't forget it."
Editing by Christine Kearney and Eric Walsh