Of all the high-profile deaths of last year, I don’t think any affected me as much as the passing of Leonard Cohen. As a long-time lover of his music and poetry, I had always wanted to see the man himself live. Robbed by fate and chronology of that opportunity, Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen fortunately stepped up to fill that hole.
Arthur Smith’s tribute to the late lyricist is an odd beast, but very much a pleasing one. Part stand-up/biographical monologue, part musical tribute, there is a nice dichotomy. The spoken sections see Smith discussing his love of Cohen, as well as the slowly increasing senility of his mother and death of his father, and it is both touching and funny, linking in nicely with the themes of the music he has prepared for us. Then the iconic fedora comes on and his South London accent makes way for Cohen’s famed low, gruff growling, and it almost feels like he could be here himself. Given that he has decades of music to choose from, and many recordings and reworkings to play with, Smith seems to, both in terms of staging (black suit, black fedora, minimal musicians and backing singers) and performance to take much from Cohen’s 2008 performance in London (released in 2009).
The voice crackles and strains under the weight of the words it’s singing (much like Cohen’s own, never the greatest vocalist even at his peak), each song is beautifully represented, with I’m Your Man, and Dance Me to the End of Love being stand-outs in this reviewer’s opinion. Alongside Smith are his Smithereens, whose combination of vocal ability, instrumental expertise, and spot on comic timing, are inch perfect and add to the atmosphere perfectly.
There are some odd moments, a naked dancing Trump seems entirely uncalled for and shocks the audience more than amuses, and some cruel (if admittedly somewhat warranted) jibes towards the poetry of Leonard Nimoy could have been skipped, but for the most part this is a beautiful and hilarious send off for quite possibly the greatest lyricist of all time.
Perhaps don’t go to this show if you only know Cohen from Hallelujah appearing in Shrek, but if you are a true fan of the great man’s music then this is perfect way to experience the classics one last time.