On a balmy 2009 Australia Day evening, I was one of the fortunate multitude who attended the Leconfield Winery for a Leonard Cohen concert that was so joyful and moving that it felt like a spiritual experience, a musical Sermon on the Mount. I got a second dose of that spiritual hit at another Cohen concert at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in November 2010.
Stewart D’Arietta. Photograph supplied
When the great man died in July 2017, it felt like God had died and that everlasting life was a myth. Cohen can’t be replaced, but he can be remembered and Stewart D’Arietta and his collaborators are doing a fine job on that front.
“Welcome to the Church of Leonard” was D’Arietta’s greeting as he and his band consisting of Michael Kluger (accordion), Victor Rounds (bass), Marty Hailey (guitar), Emily Kelly (backing vocals), and Kelvin Sugar (drums) launched into the perfect Cohen opening number Everybody Knows. Fans of Cohen would have been sated with the set that had most, but not all of the favourites including Bird on a Wire, Suzanne, Tower of Song, Chelsea Hotel#2, Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, and Closing Time. However, if like me, they were wedded to Cohen’s deity-like deep tones, D’Arietta’s Tom Waits like growl in the lower register and shouty Jimmy Barnes’ top might have jarred somewhat. The arrangements were safe rather than intriguing with one notable exception being accordionist Kluger’s klezmer rhythms on Dance Me to the End of Love. The audience sang along with skill on So Long Marianne and I liked D’Arietta’s decision to recite Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep as pure poetry before launching into the more familiar sung version of it.
D’Arietta unveiled this show in 2013 and six years later, it might be time to give it more of a cabaret flavour rather than just punching out the hits rock band style. Cohen was a poet and true devotees miss the man’s spirit as much as his music. Hence, there’s a void waiting to be filled if an artist like D’Arietta can find the voice that generates the essence of My Leonard Cohen and the Cohen that thrilled my generation. The show ended with Hallelujah which has become Cohen’s ubiquitous anthem and is sung in church as often as it’s sung in the secular world. That was part of Cohen’s greatness. He spent his entire life searching for the key to the next life and balancing that with the profane, and it was in his renaissance years, after he was forced to tour when his manager Kelly Lynch stole his fortune, that many believed that he’d found the answers to the eternal questions. He was probably just the ultimate loveable rogue having a lend, but we all need our gurus.