Towers of Song
September 25, 2018 3:40 PM   Subscribe

A year after Leonard Cohen's death on November 7th, 2016 (previously), musicians ranging from Courtney Love to Elvis Costello to Adam Cohen gathered with Cohen's longstanding backup singers The Webb Sisters and Sharon Robinson for a Memorial Concert.

If you want to listen song by song, here are the time stamps, followed by some material apparently from the cutting room floor. If you are in Canada, you can listen here.

Sting: Dance Me to the End of Love 2:40 ~ Patrick Watson and Erica Angell: Who By Fire 5.43 ~ Feist: Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye 9.50 ~ Leonard Cohen speaks on Poetry 13.12 ~ Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites from The Lumineers: 13.47 ~ Betty LaVette: In My Secret Life 20.23 ~ Elvis Costello: The Future 20.24 ~ Leonard Cohen speaks on Greece 33.12 ~ Adam Cohen & The Webb Sisters: So Long, Marianne 33.45 ~ kd lang: Hallelujah 39.33 ~ Shaar Hashomayim Choir: Tower of Song 46.04 ~ Sting: Sisters of Mercy 50.28 ~ Courtney Love: Everybody Knows 53.39 ~ Leonard Cohen speaks on Chelsea Hotel 57.10 ~ Adam Cohen & Lana Del Rey: Chelsea Hotel 57.57 ~ Damien Rice: Famous Blue Raincoat 1.02.04 ~ Elvis Costello: Bird on a Wire 1.08.36 ~ Leonard Cohen speaks on Pacifism 1.13.29 ~ Adam Cohen with Couer de Pirate and Damien Rice: The Partisan 1.14.02 ~ Leonard Cohen speaks, Sorry not to be with you, farewell Montreal 1.19.46 ~ Shaar Hashomayim Choir with Leonard Cohen voice: You Want it Darker 1.23.36 ~

Bonus tracks from same concert: Seth Rogen reading Field Commander Cohen ~ Sharon Robinson: I'm Your Man ~ Various telecommuting guests: Tower of Song ~ Leonard Cohen speaks over Ron Sexsmith: A Thousand Kisses Deep & Sexsmith sings Suzanne ~ Børns and The Webb Sisters: If it Be Your Will ~ Finale: Adam Cohen with the closing speech and the song Coming Back To You ~ Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire tribute & Leonard Cohen: A Thousand Kisses Deep ~ Elvis Costello and Sting: Introduction of the Band & Anthem.

A whole 'nother Tribute Concert from Stockholm.
posted by Rumple (25 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I gotta say, kd lang absolutely blows the roof off with her version of "Hallelujah" here.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:14 PM on September 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

> November 7th, 2016

I say, the man picked the exact right moment to step out of this timeline...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2018 [10 favorites]

It's generally overplayed to the point it loses meaning, so if I were in charge of the world, you would need a license to perform Hallelujah. There would be one license available, and it would be issued in perpetuity to kd lang.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:14 PM on September 25, 2018 [19 favorites]

If you, like me, enjoy Cohen covers on the weirder side, you might also like this Beck's Record Club performance of the entire Songs of Leonard Cohen, recorded in a single day.
posted by swift at 5:52 PM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's buried at the end of a lot of links there, so I'll emphasize the First Aid Kit tribute concert, which has some stunning renditions.
posted by Candleman at 6:03 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Holy shit Elvis Costello Bird on a Wire
posted by ericost at 6:09 PM on September 25, 2018

I think kd lang is becoming a little self-parodying with that number, though I realize I'd be in the minority. I thought Who By Fire was excellent but then I like that song anyway (and check out Patrick Watson and Erika Angell), Courtney Love brought a lot of energy which you can't say about Sting, and Adam Cohen and Lana Del Rey really blazed Chelsea Hotel #2, which must be a really weird song to sing if it is written by your day -- maybe why they did a creative job of who sings which verse. And both Elvis Costello numbers nail it.

By the way, the Lumineers link goes to their cover of "Democracy", I left out a word.
posted by Rumple at 6:25 PM on September 25, 2018

I'm sorry no one covered come healing, my favorite Cohen song, but these are lovely, thank you!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:07 PM on September 25, 2018

As much as I hate being reminded that he's gone, I truly appreciate that you posted this.
posted by she's not there at 7:45 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's generally overplayed to the point it loses meaning, so if I were in charge of the world, you would need a license to perform Hallelujah.

When I had a blog on Livejournal, I once grumbled about a show I was working on where they inexplicably had some of the cast do "Hallelujiah"in the middle of the show. There was no reason for it to be there, I grumbled.

A blog-friend from Nova Scotia responded: there was a little-known statute in Canadian law, he said, stating that there officially did not need to be a reason for people to sing "Hallelujiah". Furthermore, the singing of "Hallelujiah" at any location outside the Canadian borders temporarily annexes said location to Canada for the duration of the performance. .....This is now what I predominantly think of upon hearing that song.

If you, like me, enjoy Cohen covers on the weirder side....

A few years back there was a tribute-film about Leonard Cohen called I'm Your Fan. It was part biography, part interview, and part music; and there were some weirdly fun performances. Like Rufus Wainwright doing a bossa-nova version of Everybody Knows (with a weird little "how I met Leonard Cohen" from him to start).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:06 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

With the exception of Lang, LaVette, and Rice, I thought that was a pretty dreadful concert. (Would have been nice to see Willie Nelson do a full song.) Sting and Costello were particularly dreadful, with Feist coming in a close third.

I know I'm in the minority, but I've always preferred Cohen's originals to the covers of his songs -- and it seems the more beloved the cover the more it seems to grate on me. That Buckley one makes me gag.

My favorite covers of his songs are probably by Thalia Zedek, Will Oldham, and Teddy Thompson.

Thanks for the post, Rumple. I quite liked those three, above.
posted by dobbs at 8:20 PM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I thought that was a pretty dreadful concert

Thanks for letting us know.
It's my sense that Leonard wouldn't have minded it that much.

... de doo dum dum dum, de doo dum dum ...
posted by kneecapped at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks for those, dobbs -- I like the Thompson and the Zedek, especially the Zedek, don't really care much for the Will Oldham but then that particular song is sort of kryptonite-student-dorm for me. Cohen's originals are terrific but of course, well, he's dead.

From the EmpressCalipygos's "I'm Your Man" concert - Antony Hegarty covers If It Be Your Will - this one is from the heart, and what a voice.

For your classic Cohen needs, the 1988 tour with Bezikjiyan playing the ourd and Perla + Julie Christensen on backupvocals is good, though a couple of the numbers are a little, well, 1980s for me ....... Full Concert; ACL 1988 (now not perma-banned by youtube)., skip to The Partisan for some fiddle-ourd interplay.
posted by Rumple at 9:01 PM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm with dobbs, and anyway it's raining in here
posted by anadem at 9:23 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

As a long-time staunch Cohen originalist, as I age I have come to the conclusion that there are many ways to work a Cohen song.

Some will scratch an itch you didn't know you had. Others will make you wonder why people even tried to scale that Tower of Song to begin with.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:54 PM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Faithful covering Tower of Song
posted by PinkMoose at 4:23 AM on September 26, 2018

Perhaps my favorite Cohen performance, on Sunday Night (aka Night Music), with Sonny Rollins, Was Not Was, and David Sanborn
posted by jindc at 6:49 AM on September 26, 2018

I'm with dobbs as well. There are some people who can do versions of songs from his oeuvre -- Sharon Robinson comes to mind, although it's worth noting that she does versions of songs that she co-wrote with Cohen -- but most of them fail to strike the right note, as it were. What bugs me about a lot of these "tribute concerts" is that the musicians often seem to have done very little thinking about the song(s) they are to perform, and so the cover versions are superficial at best. This is true, for example, of both the Courtney Love and Rufus Wainwright covers of "Everybody Knows," both of which are lacking in respect for the material on the one hand and offer nothing new on the other hand (whereas the Sharon Robinson version is excellent). These can be, I think, challenging songs to cover, not only because the cover must do justice to Cohen's lyrical brilliance but also because the original compositions and arrangements are so finely tailored to Cohen's distinctive and distinctively limited vocal resources. The performers can't just do Leonard's version in their own voices. But, I get it, if you get asked to cover a Leonard Cohen song at some tribute concert, it's hardly likely to be your first priority to engage with the material on such a level that you're able to bring something interesting to the table. Thus, most of them are tepid covers in some version of the covering musician's style.
posted by slkinsey at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

There would be one license available, and it would be issued in perpetuity to kd lang.

Or perhaps John Cale. And they'd only get to play it five times a year, maybe a sixth on leap years. And anybody that calls out for it as a request would be required to attend a re-education camp.
posted by philip-random at 7:51 AM on September 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

What bugs me about a lot of these "tribute concerts" is that the musicians often seem to have done very little thinking about the song(s) they are to perform

Yes, this is indeed my issue with this concert. With the exception of Lang, LaVette, and Rice, none of these performers sounds at all like the weight of the words means anything to them.

This is my issue with some singers' entire careers -- for instance, Eva Cassidy, to me, doesn't have a single performance with any soul. There is nothing there but a pretty voice, which, absent of a lyric's meaning, ain't that pretty.

I remember being in a car with my mother many years ago and she was playing Rod Stewart's covers of standards. They were dreadfully bland. "Why are you listening to this?" I asked. "What, you don't like it? You used to love playing Chet Baker when you lived at the house!"

When I argued that he was no Chet Baker, she said, "But I've heard all his songs to death. This is new!"

Here's hoping I have to listen to Baker a million more times before hearing another peep out of Stewart.

I once saw a clip of Harry Connick trying to coach someone who was singing My Funny Valentine. Her voice was clear and hit all the right notes, but when Connick asked her if she knew what she was saying, she was stumped. "Isn't he saying he loves her and thinks she's beautiful?"

Connick said, "No. He's saying, 'You're not beautiful, but I love you nonetheless.' Try it again."

And then she sang it exactly the same way she'd been doing all along.

When I was a kid, the comedian Ben Elton had a joke about someone humming a Leonard Cohen song: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I thought it was hilarious as I wasn't old enough to appreciate the subtleties of Cohen's performances. As I've aged and come to better understand his poetry and lyrics, I've found myself thoroughly engaged in not just what he says/sings, but how.
posted by dobbs at 9:18 AM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

kd in her prime is the finest live singer I have ever heard, by a comfortable margin.

Other than that this is really not great.

And yes, I am an originalist as well.
posted by Cosine at 11:38 AM on September 26, 2018

It strikes me as a tremendous oversight, especially in view of some of the performances that were included, that the organizers of the tribute concert didn't program more solo numbers for Sharon Robinson. Not only did she co-compose many songs with Leonard Cohen, but she was really the foremost interpreter of his music (especially those they wrote together, of course). I saw Leonard Cohen perform live on several occasions, and Sharon Robinson always sang several pieces by herself.

Some examples:
- Alexandra Leaving
- Everybody Knows
- Boogie Street
- Secret Life
posted by slkinsey at 1:00 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I like the Thompson and the Zedek, especially the Zedek

The entire album that that cover appears on is wonderful. My favorite release from 2001.
posted by dobbs at 1:17 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Like some here, I wasn't exactly lovin every singer, but a swell show. Cohen's only peer as most craggy old iconic songwriter is Dylan, but Cohen's style is more idiosyncratic, and trickier to interpret. The old guy in the orchestra playing classical 12 string lead was great.

I liked the part with the tape recording of Leornard revealing the mystery, priceless.
posted by ovvl at 3:13 PM on September 26, 2018

Thank you for this - I am not a purist, and a few concerts' worth of Leonard Cohen's music was a nice break from this week.
posted by mersen at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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