Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Tribute concerts tend to honour the dead and are invariably oozy with good intentions. This one is emotionally electric and so deeply felt, Lian Lunson's infuriatingly artsy documentary style fails to dilute the privilege of the experience.

Is it because this Jewish poet from Montreal, who, for a period, shaved his head, lived in a monastery and became a Buddhist monk ("My reputation as a ladies man is a joke when you think of the 10,000 nights I have spent alone"), is still alive and talking about going back on the road? Or do his perfectly formed lyrics inspire greatness from singers who can lose themselves in the moment?

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The hometown contingent includes a pair of Wainwrights and McGarrigles, with a sprinkling of Brits, Linda and Teddy Thompson and the irrepressible Jarvis Cocker, the dangerously talented Aussie, Nick Cave, with the beautiful Beth Orton, the extraordinary Antony and the captivating double act of Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla.

Intercut with the concert footage are black-and-white stills from Leonard Cohen's scrapbook, early home movies of your man as a boy/teenager/young poet, with snatches (too short) of interviews with the veteran singer songwriter, who has retained his sense of humour and inimitable charm, as well as a sartorial elegance ("I couldn't wear blue jeans. I always felt more comfortable in suits"), and Bono ("He makes something beautiful out of the blackness") and The Edge from U2, who talk with such eloquence about their admiration for Cohen's unique qualities as a writer.

There is no showboating from the performers, which is liberating and surprising, because charity concerts can disintergrate into ego trips, masquerading as love-ins. It feels as if the songs themselves have taken possession of the singers, as raw emotion sweeps away choreographed stagecraft.

Martha Wainwright is particularly memorable, feeling every word of The Traitor, and Antony, eyes closed, arms in Joe Cocker spasm, seems overwhelmed by the beauty of If It Be Your Will. Martha's brother Rufus, accompanied by his mother Kate McGarrigle and aunt Anna, gives an amusing, faintly camp, rendition of Everybody Knows, but returns later with a magnificent version of Chelsea Hotel #2. He closes with Hallelujah, a song immortalised by the late Jeff Buckley, and the purity of his voice and the sincerity of his performance is deeply affecting.

Cave remembers growing up in a rural small town in Australia's conservative heartland and discovering Cohen's Songs Of Love And Hate. It changed his life. Here, he sings the essential I'm Your Man and Suzanne, with inspired backing from Christensen and Batalla. While Cocker offers a spirited Death Of A Ladies Man, with Orton, it is Christensen and Batalla's duet on Anthem which embodies that loving feeling. The emotion is so pure and voices so clear, it cannot fail to melt your heart.

The finale, not part of the concert, but filmed in what looks like the corner of a studio, decked out with red silk curtains, is almost too good to be true. Cohen talk/sings Tower Of Song, accompanied by U2. It will blow what remains of your mind.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2006
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A tribute concert for Leonard Cohen, with snatches of interviews and scrapbook photos.
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Sundance 2006

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