Stewart D’Arrietta’s latest tribute show, My Leonard Cohen, presents a side of the Canadian songsmith that not many people would recognise, or even imagine could have existed.
Cohen’s seductive whisper and his honeyed phrasing have been replaced in this show by vocal interpretations that deliver the classic songbook in what could best be described as a Tom Waitsian bottom of the whiskey bottle growl, and at worst, a Jimmy Barnesian roar set at half throttle.
Such muscle and aggression seemed out of place to me, especially when employed in songs such as Dance Me To the End Of Love which, as D’Arrietta reminds us, was written as a lament, a song full of disbelief at the extent of Holocaust horror.
To be fair though, the show is entitled My Leonard Cohen and, therefore, D’Arrietta has asserted his right to present Cohen as he personally saw him, and perhaps this raw abrasive version of the man is, in its way, a fair representation.
Cohen was often dismissed as soft and unappealingly introspective by those unwilling to listen closely to his work, and D’Arrietta may be attempting to correct that misinterpretation by way of deliberate over-compensation in order to celebrate, metaphorically, Cohen’s strong individualism.
The band, most often full-bodied in sound and in support of their front man, beef up the arrangements on numbers such as Tower Of Song, Closing Time, First We Take Manhattan and I’m Your Man and these numbers all work well – particularly when guitarist John Bettison is allowed to take the spotlight and add some tasteful guitar breaks.
Mark Meyer, local drum hero, provides the rhythmic propulsion; Victor Rounds is tastefully unobtrusive on bass; and Dr.Michael Kluger is often given full interpretive rein on accordion. Providing sweet counterpoint to D’Arrietta’s rasping lead vocal is Johanna Elms, whose two solo verses in the show also highlighted her clear and appealing vocal chops.
Unfortunately, those songs that require some delicacy in their delivery to fully convey the sensitivity and sensuality that Cohen imbued them with – songs such as Suzanne, Bird On A Wire and even the hallowed Hallelujah – adversely suffered from the tough love they received from the band.
The 15 song set is made up of the Cohen songs that people are familiar with and will most want to hear. D’Arrietta links the songs with snippets of biographical information about the songwriter which are interesting and relevant to his song selections.
My Leonard Cohen was not an unequivocal success for me, but it does put the spotlight squarely on the songs – and despite some occasional rough treatment, the old adage still proves true – diamonds don’t crack under pressure.
Rating: 3 stars
Stewart D’Arrietta’s My Leonard Cohen is running until March 12 at The German Club, 223 Flinders Street. Shows begin at 7:30pm.
[Please note that the band personnel advertised on the flyer that you may have seen around town are not all in the band that appear in this show.
Sherbet’s Tony Mitchell; Dragon’s Don Miller-Robinson, and singer Sunny Amoreena are not in the line-up.]