Stewart D’Arrietta is a busy man. While touring Australia with John Waters in the John Lennon Tribute ‘Lennon: Through a Glass Onion’, he is also taking time to pay tribute to another musical legend, Leonard Cohen. My Leonard Cohen comprises of D’Arrietta on piano along with a six-piece band that includes violin, guitars, drums and a female backing vocal. The show recently garnered praise at the 2016 Edinburgh Festival.
For the uninitiated, Leonard Cohen was Canadian poet, musician, a writer and an ordained monk. He passed away earlier this year and is widely recognised as one of the most important musical figures of the last century. In a career that spanned some 40 years, Cohen amassed a rich catalogue of songs. Paying him tribute, and doing the songs justice, is no easy feat.
A word of disclosure: I came to the gig as a long-time Cohen fan and I have been fortunate to see him play live twice. As such, I found it difficult to not compare the show to the real thing, although I recognise that attempts to do are unfair. Overall, this proved to be an enjoyable gig.
D’Arietta has all the tools to make Cohen’s songs come alive: a deep whisky-soaked voice, great piano chops, and a sense of charisma. The six-piece band proved to be muscular, yet at the same time, the violin and backing vocals added nuanced flourishes. Over the course of an hour and a half, the band whisked through some 18 songs covering all parts of Cohen’s catalogue.
The group excelled on Cohen’s more ‘upbeat’ songs, including ‘I’m Your Man’, ‘Tower of Song’ and ‘First We Take Manhattan’. However, I felt that more restraint was needed on other songs to highlight the beauty and fragility of Cohen’s lyrics. In particular, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’ would have benefited from more sparse arrangements and slower pacing. But this is really a minor gripe in what was otherwise and fitting and joyful tribute to Cohen.
Highly recommended for Cohen fans new and old.
Khanh grew up in Hoi An, a UNESCO Heritage listed village in Central Vietnam. He migrated with his family to Australia when he was 9. He has traveled extensively through Europe, South America and Asia. He is an academic, music lover, sports lover and a former table tennis (not ping-pong!) champion. Follow him instagram @ironandwhiskey
My Leonard Cohen plays tonight (Thursday Feburary 9) at the Opera House Studio at 7.30pm. Tickets are still available.