My Leonard Cohen

My Leonard Cohen is, above all, very, very fun. Stewart D’Arrietta and band run through a medley of Cohen’s hits, but you probably haven’t heard them like this before. Too often when people cover Cohen they can’t help but try to emulate his style – they offer stripped-back, softly sung piano-led tracks which pale in comparison with the original (with a few honourable exceptions). Not here.

The hour-and-a-half set flies by. I could have stayed for hours, and all those around me felt the same.

D’Arrietta and co. launch straight into a muscular, energetic Everybody Knows and don’t look back. The crowd is on board from the start – in D’Arrietta’s hands these are proper rock songs – and the band is clearly having a great time. Like Cohen, D’Arrietta himself has the appropriate gravel for these songs, but his voice has a different quality. Cohen’s voice carries the weight of the years and his melancholy; D’arrietta sounds like someone has soaked his lungs in whisky and set them alight. It’s Leonard Cohen getting the Tom Waits treatment.

Famous Blue Raincoat is dealt with expertly, and Bird on a Wire makes a fitting tribute to Cohen’s Marianne, whose real-life counterpart passed away recently. The rest of the band are on good form and invest these songs with a dark, throbbing energy – Dr Michael Kruger on piano-accordion particularly stands out. A highlight was Dance me to the End of Love. D’Arrietta speaks of learning what inspired Cohen to write the song: Cohen found out that Jewish string quartets had been used to play inmates in concentration camps into the gas chambers. Upon hearing this, D’Arrietta reinterpreted the song, and it’s played here as a piece of music that might be performed by a klezmer band; D’Arrietta snarls into the mic and the song is angry and defiant, and the crowd claps along as the song climaxes and D’Arrietta howls. It’s startling and moving.

One misstep is the slightly tasteless rendition of Chelsea Hotel #2. D’Arrietta declares that the hotel is the scene of “the most famous blowjob in history”, and emphasises the well-known line. But the song is intended to be a sad testament to a life and talent cut short too soon – it’s one of Cohen’s most moving, and the lyrics (it seems to me) are intended to be candid, not jokey or blokey. Cohen himself has stated his regret at revealing who the song is about; his example might have been followed.

This being said, in the context of the whole performance the misstep is a minor one, and the band soon redeem themselves with a magnificent, belting sing-along to So Long Marianne – a staple of Cohen’s concerts and a crowd favourite. The hour-and-a-half set flies by. I could have stayed for hours, and all those around me felt the same.

Reviews by Matthew Bradley

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The Blurb

Few bodies of musical work rouse, seduce and are of such solace as that of the great Leonard Cohen. Stewart D’Arrietta’s musical interpretations are gutsy and arresting, and the stories he tells add an intimate insight into Cohen’s life and motivations. ‘A glowing tribute to this legendary artist’ (PopCulture-Y.com). The six-piece band perform 15 songs including the heartrending Suzanne, the iconic Tower of Song, the desperately seductive I’m Your Man, the rousing Hallelujah, plus more. 'Not just for Cohen fans but for anyone with a true love of music and theatre and great musicianship' (StageWhispers.com.au).

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