The revered performer delivered the very first lyric of the evening upon bended knees, dropping down low to sing one of the most exquisite opening lines of any song in the entire pop music canon: "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin."

And it surely made the crowd want to return the gesture -- to kneel down in recognition and honor of one of the finest songwriters in history.

All hail Leonard Cohen.

The 78-year-old Canadian troubadour, who is more energetic onstage than most performers half his age, certainly lived up to his legend on Wednesday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Cohen's two-set, three-hour show was entirely marvelous -- from the smoldering beauty of an opener, "Dance Me to the End of Love," on through to the eventual closer, a fun, faithful cover of the Drifters' classic "Save the Last Dance for Me."

The crowd greeted each of the roughly two dozen selections with gusto, reserving a little extra energy, of course, for the "best of" material. Some 6,000 people attended the show, basically filling the lower sections to capacity, but it sure felt like a bigger audience as Cohen uncurled such fan favorites as "Tower of Song," "Who By Fire" and "Democracy." The devotees acted like there was no place else on earth that they'd rather be.

Smart crowd.

If you saw Cohen's equally enjoyable 2008-10 tour, which touched down on three separate occasions in the Bay Area, then you have a pretty good idea of Wednesday's play list. The star gave the fans what they wanted -- i.e., the cream of the crop -- but due to the depth and breadth of Cohen's songbook, it wasn't surprising to hear fans later grumbling about what was left off the set list. (I'll grumble a bit myself and say that I wish he'd played "Ain't No Cure for Love," "Boogie Street," "Closing Time" and, especially, "If It Be Your Will.")

Yet, that's kind of like complaining that the sprinkles were left off a five-scoop, hot chocolate sundae with nuts and whipped cream. The show was, without question, an embarrassment of songwriting riches.

I could fill this entire review with gushing comments about Cohen's lyrics -- and still have enough left over to write a book. Seemingly every line of his is worth dissecting, knowing full well that you'll probably get something new each time you study his words. If you don't get something out of a Leonard Cohen song — any Leonard Cohen song — then you probably aren't listening hard enough.

The biggest difference between what we witnessed on Wednesday and on Cohen's previous tour was the inclusion of new material. Cohen is currently touring in support of his 12th studio album, "Old Ideas" (released in January), and he included a healthy handful of the fresh tunes. They weren't what the crowd was hoping to hear, but they were still mighty impressive — especially the clever cut "Anyhow," which really held up next to the classics.

Cohen was equally poetic and powerful -- a nearly unbeatable combination -- as he unleashed his canyon-deep voice and led his superb band on one diversely appealing gem after another. He was mesmerizing on "The Future," heartbreaking on "Bird on the Wire," transcendent on "In My Secret Life" and downright humorous on "Tower of Song."

The highlight of the night, amid very stiff competition, was probably "Hallelujah," which brought the house down like no other. That tune has become one of the most popular songs to cover in recent years, and the renditions have ranged from peculiar (Bon Jovi) to poignant (k.d. lang). Yet -- with due respect to the version delivered by the late Jeff Buckley -- nobody handles "Hallelujah" better than the man who wrote it.

Hallelujah, indeed. What a night. And the best news is that we might get another Cohen date in the near future.

"I suppose we will meet again sometime," the singer announced from the stage. "I hope to stay on the road another couple of years."

We'll be waiting.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.