Neither a tribute act, nor a straight covers show, My Leonard Cohen takes the songs of the venerable Canadian, gives them new musical settings, and intertwines them with anecdotes from his life. Aussie bandleader Stewart D’Arrietta, last seen here on the Lennon tribute show Through A Glass Onion, takes vocal, piano and storytelling duties, with a four-piece band and female singer backing him. The love and respect for the material and the man, both on and off stage, is clear.
The songs merit the treatments they’ve been given, especially the I’m Your Man era selections, whose cheap Casio-keyboard-stuck-on-demo-mode production has been completely banished. The classics are all in evidence, but nicely tweaked. Suzanne is given a country lilt, Dance Me To The End Of Love a Eastern European gypsy flavour, Sisters Of Mercy a Celtic folkiness.
In the right bar-room atmosphere this would be ideal – somewhere a little down-at-heel, with the clientele rinsing down burgundy, or something harder. The late afternoon Rainy Hall at Assembly, however, seems to demand something more showbiz. D’Arrietta steps into that mode when he gets an overly enthusiastic member of the audience to join in with So Long, Marianne, but it doesn’t shake that sense of the wrong atmosphere. It’s all too rough-edged for a place like this.
There’s also an elephant in the room. D’Arrietta’s voice is as gravelly and unlistenable (in the conventional sense) as Cohen’s own, but you can’t help thinking of another gnarly old boy that D’Arrietta has previously brought to the stage. ‘Do some Tom Waits!’ you want to cry. Nothing wrong with a performer stretching their wings with something different of course, and this isn’t an impersonation competition, but D’Arrietta is so like Waits in style and demeanour, it’s distracting.
The predominantly grey-haired audience enjoy the journey through Len’s history, and the band, especially D’Arrietta, look like a “stay-behind-and-have-a-beer-with-us” bunch, which is always good. If only we were in a bar-room to start with…