It would be unfair to describe Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen Vol.2 as simply a tribute act to Cohen, as Smith himself does. It is more the story of how Cohen’s music has provided the soundtrack to Smith’s life at its most difficult moments. It has given him a philosophical anchorage and a means from which to see and understand the world.
Smith croons and the audience swoons. How could they not?
Smith’s delivery sounds like a cross between a jazz singer and a grizzly bear. While that may not sound like a promising cocktail of vocal styles it matches the seductive brutality of Cohen’s lyrics impeccably. His opening rendition of I'm Your Man is simply spine-tingling and his version of Tower of Song might just be the perfect definition of cool.
In between songs Smith fleshes out a more conventional stand up set. The topics are, like Cohen’s material, suitably dark. But also like Cohen, Smith is able to find the comedy within the shadows. His easy charm and affability quickly flips the morbid into the hilarious. He rails against jolly enthusiasm, then he rails against jet black rage, only to settle on a deadpan misery instead. TV fans will recognise the grumpy old man persona that Arthur Smith has come to symbolise. But here there’s more to it. There is sagely wisdom, there is a rally to beautiful losers. Smith offers what grumpy old men never do; an alternative to the world he mercilessly attacks.
One rather annoying habit in the show is to introduce the back-up singers and musicians in instalments. Rather than just having them walk onstage with Smith, they are introduced sporadically within the first fifteen minutes coming in from the audience or off from the wings. This is only a problem because it distracts from a patently entertaining show. That having been said the backing band are undoubtedly talented and their enthusiasm pays off against Smith’s withered melancholia.
Ultimately one is reminded of the power of Cohen’s words. They are full of images at once sharp and atmospheric, vivid and hazy. ‘Between the ocean and your open vein… Love calls you by your name,’ Smith croons and the audience swoons. How could they not?
The love with which this show is performed and the final sincerity of Smith pushes this from a good show to a wonderful one.