REVIEW – Leonard Cohen Tribute act left me miserable for all the wrong reasons

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Deadline News reviews and reports from Edinburgh Festival FringeSHOW TITLE: My Leonard Cohen

VENUE: Assembly Rooms, until 27 August, 7.45pm.

By JEAN WEST

 

My Leonard Cohen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Photo By Stewart Liam McConville

OK, so I guess it was my own fault for going to see a tribute band.

For me cheesy re-renderings of a performer’s back catalogue, whose unique magic has been eclipsed by time, like a snowflake melted and gone, are often worse than their passing.

But, some people love them. For them, the mimicry of something once distinctive is just enough to get their serotonin rushing in.

And besides, some of the reviews for My Leonard Cohen were sensational. There were sellouts at the Sydney Opera House and Adelaide Fringe Festival and blockbusting audiences here in Edinburgh last year.

For myself though, from the outset, or should that be onslaught, I felt Mr Leonard Cohen, so recently deceased, RIP, was raised from the dead or a party that I doubt he would have attended.

My Leonard Cohen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Photo By Stewart Liam McConville

Nonetheless, I must bring in some balance here. These guys were indeed magnificent at what they did; real musicians with a strong set, beautiful singing range, slick and sartorially turned-out.

Stewart D’Arrietta, who ‘was’ Leonard Cohen, looked splendid in trilby, detailed waistcoat, and polished shoes. He has a phenomenal presence, no doubt about it.

But as an ensemble, they made Cohen – who’s honest, maudlin take on life and its shadow that made him ‘your man’ – sound like one of the Beach Boys.

My Leonard Cohen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Photo by Stewart Liam McConville

And it hurt, not so much my ears, as my sensibilities, which were looking for the subtlety, cool and quiet ease, of the suited Jew from Montreal, who knew he couldn’t sing.

I wanted to celebrate the melancholy of Leonard Cohen, because sometimes that has been so comforting. The poet suffered from depression for most of his life and turned it into an art form as so many before and since.

This lifted, we are told in an interesting aside, along with many others in the show, with the inner contemplation he found in five years of monastic life, as he entered his senior years.

At one point I unkindly thought, it might have swiftly returned if he had done a Lazarus last night and joined us in the auditorium. But, more likely, after some enlightenment, he would have reached for compassion, and had a good laugh. I breathed and focussed on this.

My Leonard Cohen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Photo by Stewart Liam McConville

The show might have seemed to have forced everything; it was a caricature, too fantastical and showy for me. But it most definitely was entertaining, and as a particular genre, worthy of high acclaim from certain critics, and, indeed standing ovation from the audience.

Val McDiarmid, the celebrated Scottish crime author, tweeted how wonderful it was: “Foot-stomping, heart-thumping, tear-jerking night….Catch it or kick yourself.”

D’Arrietta’s gravelly voice, more Tom Waits, I would suggest, than Cohen, with that big ball of phlegm burr, was masterful and accomplished. If you like sing-a-long-a nostalgia, it was five star.

Notable was the only female backing singer in the six-piece band, who looked hip and French and felt authentic, in the beautiful Assembly Ballroom, with its gold leaf ceiling and chandeliers.

A potted history of the singer’s life was informative. His grandfather was a rabbi, he studied law at university but dropped out, slept with Janis Joplin at the famous Chelsea Hotel, who said she was looking for Kris Krostofferson, and he for Brigitte Bardot.

We learn how he met Marianne, the love of his life, on Hydra in Greece, where he lived without running water and electricity, and how he said he was born in a suit.

Bird on a Wire was turned into a rather too rhythmic anthem, D’Arrietta, was happy to harmonise everything, and the Sisters of Mercy made my soul sink as it was translated into a foot-tapping, hand clapping pop song. The guitar player looked at times like he would have been more at home with Status Quo.

When I came home I felt I needed to take a shower and imagine it like a rain from heaven washing off this pseudo-styling of the sixties icon.

Perhaps I needed to just get over myself like Cohen did; bring some peace; ‘laugh and cry and laugh and cry about it all again.’

I would more than recommend this experience to audiences who love a bit of middle-of-the road. All the old favourites, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Dance Me To The End of Love, and Hallelujah, got real melody make-overs

Misery-faces like me should just stay at home.

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