Best Leonard Cohen Performance Of The Partisan: Reykjavik – 1988

Leonard Cohen – The Partisan
Reykjavik: June 24, 1988

This recording of The Partisan has appeared on and disappeared from YouTube several times. It’s available again – which is a good thing because Leonard Cohen, his musicians, and the song’s arrangement combine to offer the best presentation of  “The Partisan” I’ve found. (Other worthy candidates can be found at Searching For The Best Online Video Of The Partisan By Leonard Cohen.)

The elements of the performance I find most impressive follow:

  • While John Bilezikjian on the oud is featured, his passages, including even the first 45 seconds, during which Bilezikjian is literally spotlighted, are clearly integrated into the song rather than the song serving as a podium (or worse, an excuse)  for an exhibition of a soloist talents.
  • Similarly, the music produced by the oud fits and flavors the mood and lyrics of “The Partisan.” An all too real problem with instruments not often heard by audiences is the risk they may be perceived as novelties rather than contributors to the overall sound of the music.
  • Cohen’s voice, which has significantly shifted over the years, has, at the time of this performance,  deepened in comparison to the beginning of his career but hasn’t become as harsh (at least in this instance) as it does later – making it spot on for the romanticized story of bravery and loss told in the words of the song.
  • The backup singers, Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, provide strong and needed  support for Cohen without becoming overwhelming or competing for the audience’s attention. They also  seem especially well attuned to Cohen’s timing and completely in sync with each other.
  • Likewise, the band is faultless, never missing a note or extending one too long or cutting one off too soon.
  • A simple but effective device, that unceasing drumbeat, sustains the pace and drive of the song.

This content was first posted May 28, 2009 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric