Leonard Cohen tribute, Dome Concert Hall, Brighton

Dome Concert Hall, Brighton

"Well, that wasn't depressing at all," someone exclaims as the crowd strolls out of the packed theatre into the Brighton night. Leonard Cohen's reputation as the Canadian High Commissioner for bedsit gloom may be dented by these two sold-out tribute nights, curated by Hal Willner and Janine Nichols. Backed by a supercharged house band - effectively Sex Mob with strings and keys - a dozen or so artists deliver 31 Cohen songs in several guises: rousing rockers, country heartbreakers, cracked ballads, TV-show bombast, theatrical torch songs.

Nobody attempts to imitate Cohen's own vocal style: most interpret his music and superb words in a way that throws new light on their own preoccupations. Nick Cave is particularly effective on a rolling, propulsive version of Suzanne and a theatrical I'm Your Man. Laurie Anderson, singing rather than speaking, still sounds exactly like Laurie Anderson on If It Be Your Will and The Guests. The likable Jarvis Cocker sings as appallingly as ever on Death of a Ladies' Man, duetting with Beth Orton over a clumping arrangement.

One great coup is the inclusion of Cohen's former backing singers Julie Christiansen and Perla Batalla, whose note-perfect contributions to Came So Far for Beauty, sung by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Halleluja, sung by Rufus Wainwright (Kate's son), send shivers down the spine. Batalla's Bird on the Wire brings the house down. Another Wainwright, Martha, is terrific on a stripped-down Tower of Song.

The Handsome Family (Brett and Rennie Sparks) give support to Cohen's own claim that he is a country musician. "This song is about a saddle and a whip - like most love songs," deadpans Rennie, introducing The Ballad of the Absent Mare. They also sing Famous Blue Raincoat, accompanied by a searing, sustained guitar part from Smokey Hormel. It's an overlong evening, with more songs and stars than are really necessary, but the show is a decidedly non-gloomy triumph.


John L Walters

The GuardianTramp

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