Montreal After – Celebrating Leonard Cohen On The Eve Of The First Anniversary Of His Passing By Christof Graf

Tower Of Song: A Leonard Cohen Memorial Tribute

A Guest Post By Christof Graf
Photos: Christof Graf

Introduction:  Christof Graf has authored multiple books and articles about Leonard Cohen and has published material online at since 1996. (More about Christof can be found at his Q&A.) In this post, he reviews the Nov 6, 2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert supplemented by his own exclusive photos and videos. Update: Also see Christof Graf’s Multi-Media Walk Through The Montreal Mac Leonard Cohen Exhibition With Curator John Zeppetelli

Montreal, November 6th, 2017. The 22,000-seat Bell Centre, best known as a hockey stadium. was transformed to a Mecca for the faithful  on the first anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death. Cohen’s son Adam and the Cohen family organized a concert event of the highest quality and depth.

Participants included Canadian and international artists such as Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey, Feist, K.D. Lang, Damien Rice and Sting, who each offered their interpretations of Leonard Cohen songs.  (Philip Glass, who was on the program list, did not  appear.) The concert was a prelude to the Leonard Cohen Exhibition, “A Crack in Everything,” commemorating the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Expectations were accordingly high and were more than fulfilled.

Sting kicked-off the almost three hour show, interpreting “Dance Me To The End Of Love” in his trademark fashion.

The Canadian singer Feist had already recorded “Closing Time” in 2011  for the movie “Take This Waltz” and performed “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” in Spring of 2017 at the Juno Award ceremony. She thereby outed herself as an outstanding interpreter of Cohen’s songs and brought the latter song to the table at the gala. The stage was discreetly equipped, lit mostly in shadows, with illumination from spotlights similar to current Bob Dylan shows. In the center a large screen towered above the stage, presenting pictures from Cohen’s past. Featured were Moments from Cohen’s various periods of work, pictures of Marianne and Hydra, and memories from his childhood in Montreal.Occasionally the audience would see Cohen’s drawings from “The Book of Longing” and various other fade-ins from past tours, which added mental images to the ones already being evoked by the music. The crowd, packed to the rim in the 22,000 seat hockey arena, knew to greet every artist with great appreciation and bade them farewell with applause. The mood of the occasion was slightly drowned in the sports arena, but was replaced with equal emotional depth in every performance.

An orchestra was seated in front of the screen, populated with some of Leonard Cohen’s former accompanying musicians, such as Neil Larson, Charlie & Hattie Webb and Javier Mas. Missing were individuals such as Roscoe Beck, who had not only been there for Cohen’s seemingly never ending final tour from 2008-2013, but who also reliably stood by Cohen’s side since the 70s. The fans also missed Jennifer Warnes, who catapulted Cohen back into the spotlight in 1987 with her “Famous Blue Raincoat” cover album.

One could have also hoped for a few very big named artists: If not Bob Dylan, who famously covered “Hallelujah,” live in Montreal in 1988, then one could have possibly invited Neil Young. To date, he still owes a cover song. There were rumours that Tom Waits would join, but he did not. Peter Gabriel and Celine Dion participated with short videos while the Shaar Hashomayim Choir performed “Tower of Song.” At the end the audience could see Leonard Cohen on the screen finishing his impressive song with his well-known words about the secret of life: “Dee Do Dam Dam.”

Patrick Watson contributed “Who By Fire.” Sharon Robinson offered an atypical rock and roll flavored cover of “I’m Your Man” from the 1988 album of the same name. She set herself apart from the group of choir singers, donned a black fedora and rocked the stage with an overtly sexy performance that contrasted with her role as backup singer.

Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites from the Lumineers gave their musical statement with “Democracy,” from the 1992 album “Future.” The background featured a waving American flag, as a form of appreciation for Leonard Cohen’s long-lived place of residence in Los Angeles.

Every one of the 24 set list songs is worth mentioning, but especially noteworthy were the versions of “The Future,” and “Bird On a Wire,” from Elvis Costello, Damien Rice’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and K.D. Lang’s “Hallelujah,” which seemed to cause the audience to fall into a trance like state. K.D Lang’s performance seemed similar to previous iterations by them from the past. Costello’s performance, on the other hand, was new. Up to that point, not much was known about him in regards to Cohen songs. That made his introverted performance of “Bird On A Wire,” even more impressive.

Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love ,surprised everyone, screaming out “Everybody Knows,” with lascivious sex appeal in a dark blue satin dress.

She managed to incorporate a new drive to the song. (Some time ago, she already did a Cohen cover “Take This Longing”).

Adam Cohen accompanied certain songs with his acoustic guitar on stage, such as “Chelsea Hotel,” performed by Lana Del Rey and “So Long, Marianne,” by Cohen’s choir singers, the Webb Sisters. “It was my father`s wish that any public commemoration be carried out in his hometown, and a tribute concert seems a perfect fit,” said Adam Cohen before the show and added, “We ended up calling hundreds of people to get to the perfect cast.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire also scaled the stage and reveled in memories of Leonard Cohen, confessing that their first dance happened to the music of “I’m Your Man,” sealing their love to one another.

The emotional evening ended with a memory from Adam Cohen about his father; with a song, which he first heard from his father: “Coming Back To You.”

No, a giant medley with all participating performers, which is custom for such gala events, was not part of the agenda and neither was a professional handling of the (foreign) press. The finale belonged to Adam Cohen and the large feeling of missing someone who no longer walks among us.

Setlist: Tower Of Song
Montreal, Bell Centre, 6th November 2017

1. Dance Me to the End of Love

2. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

Patrick Watson
3. Who by Fire

Sharon Robinson
4. I’m Your Man

Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites from The Lumineers
5. Democracy

Pre-recorded voice of Leonard Cohen
6. A Thousand Kisses Deep

Ron Sexsmith
7. Suzanne

Elvis Costello
8. The Future

Damien Rice
9. Famous Blue Raincoat

Adam Cohen and The Webb Sisters
10. So Long, Marianne

k.d. lang
11. Hallelujah

Shaar Hashomayim Choir (Leonard Cohen cover) (with video performances by… more )
12. Tower of Song

13. Sisters of Mercy

Adam Cohen and Lana Del Ray
14. Chelsea Hotel #2

Betty LaVette
15. In My Secret Life

Courtney Love
16. Everybody Knows

Seth Rogen
17. Field Commander Cohen

BØRNS and The Webb Sisters
18. If It Be Your Will

Adam Cohen, Coeur de pirate and Damien Rice
19. The Partisan

Elvis Costello
20. Bird on the Wire

21. Anthem

Shaar Hashomayim Choir (Leonard Cohen cover) (with pre-recorded voice of Leonard Cohen)
22. You Want It Darker

Adam Cohen and Basia Bulat
23. Coming Back to You

Basia Bulat
24. Closing Time

2 Replies to “Montreal After – Celebrating Leonard Cohen On The Eve Of The First Anniversary Of His Passing By Christof Graf”

  1. Pingback: KW-47-2017: The Montreal Afters – Part 1: Mein Konzertreview – auf | Der COHENPEDIA – Blog – Christof Graf `s – LEONARD COHEN – BLOG +++ Popular Problems, Various Positions & other Old Ideas +++ sei

  2. Stefania L.

    It’s somewhat sad for guest blogger Mr Graf that he feels compelled in two recent posts on Cohencentric to mention his dissatisfaction as to how he feels the “foreign” or “international press” were treated at the Leonard Cohen Tower of Song tribute at the Bell Centre in Montreal, without explaining the circumstances surrounding his whiny conclusion to his description of the concert. What kind of sense of entitlement did he bring with him from Germany? We North American fans of Leonard Cohen were simply thrilled just to be able to attend this magnificent concert. Not sure what he thought he was ‘owed’ in terms of being a member of the (foreign) press, simply being present was great for the rest of us. But as he didn’t explain and only complained, I guess we will never know. Or perhaps he could enlighten us, so we can make up our own minds about the ‘unprofessional handling’ (whatever that means) that he complains about?.

    However, if readers of wish to read a somewhat more satisfying review, including poem/song lyrics extracts and links to the texts of all the songs featured, plus comments in the text from a number of fans also in attendance, can I suggest they click on the link below. It’s a thoroughly satisfying, and lengthy read about a truly marvellous and magical night.

    There’s also a previous article from Nov 2016 with a somewhat more local flavour by the same author that concludes with an original poem addressed to LC that some Cohencentric readers might also like:

    “Our poet-prophet is dead. Long live our poet-prophet”