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 www.cohenpedia.de 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.
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.
1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
3. Who by Fire
4. I’m Your Man
Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites from The Lumineers
Pre-recorded voice of Leonard Cohen
6. A Thousand Kisses Deep
8. The Future
9. Famous Blue Raincoat
Adam Cohen and The Webb Sisters
10. So Long, Marianne
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
15. In My Secret Life
16. Everybody Knows
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
20. Bird on the Wire
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
24. Closing Time