It was only January but this was ramping up to be the show of the year. Music producer Jesse Lauter and City Winery’s head talent booker Hannah Gold got a lot of New York indie artists and singer/songwriters together for one evening that was all about Leonard Cohen. All ticket sales went to the Preemptive Love Coalition.
The Music Hall of Williamsburg had been one of my favorite clubs since it opened. But since AXS has taken over many of the Bowery Presents clubs there have been problems. One is that the will-call window is totally fucked up. I always found it strange that, unlike the Bowery Ballroom, the MHoW makes everyone stand outside until the club doors are open. The Bowery Ballroom allows people into the downstairs bar (which the MHoW also has) to hang out and drink (and for them to make money) for at least an hour before the doors to the club are open. The MHoW opens both the downstairs bar and the club at the same time. And those with tickets walk right in and stake out their spots in the club. Will-call used to be an easy show your ID, get your ticket, and walk into the club. Now there’s a wait. And people looking for lists. And then the people realizing that you’re not on the list they have on the clipboard but another list. It all depends on where you bought the ticket. Both rtb and I spent too much time at will-call. By the time we got in, violaleeblue had gotten a spot near the stage on the audience left platform. Mrs. Devereaux and mollyT joined us. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen MHoW so packed.
The night started with a Jewish prayer “Birkhat Ha’Kohanim” sent out over the sound system and filling the room. The band was Josh Kaufman, Walt Martin, Annie Nero, Ray Rizzo and joined sometimes by Dave Harrington and other musicians. The three female back-up singers each took a turn at the mic during the evening: Cassandra Jenkins, Jocie Adams, and Leslie Mendelson.
Delicate Steve was the first musician up and he performed a beautiful instrumental version of “Hallelujah” on electric guitar while the backing band slowly come on stage. It was a good choice to get that song out of the way and to do it as an instrumental.
Osei Essed followed with a fun rendition of “Diamonds in the Mine.” Then Steve Salett sang a subdued version of “First We Take Manhattan.” While the female chorus was singing, Salett pulled an apple out of his pocket, took two bites, and then left the apple on the amp when he left the stage. Cassandra Jenkins came up front to sing “In My Secret Life” and then Leslie Mendelson sang “Sisters of Mercy.” Both did a wonderful job.
Then we heard Leonard Cohen’s voice full and clear over the sound system – “The Future Interview – Part 11.” Adam Weiner sat at the piano and played a rousing version of “Everybody Knows” that included leading an audience sing-a-long while standing on the piano bench. Alana Amram (the first of the child of a famous performer that night) did a beautiful version of “Suzanne” with Dan Garcia joining her on acoustic guitar and adding a gorgeous solo. I had been eyeing Jocie Adams because I knew she looked familiar and I couldn’t place her. Then she joined Arc Iris on stage and rtb said, “Isn’t that Jocie [from The Low Anthem]?” and I agreed that it looked like her and after rtb checked online we knew it was her for sure. That’s why she looked so familiar to me. It’s impossible to dislike anything that Jocie does and the combination of her singing and Leonard Cohen was perfect. Arc Iris performed “Lover, Lover, Lover.”
One of the highlights for me was Lenny Kaye’s reading from Beautiful Losers (one of Lou Reed’s favorite novels). The book came out in 1966 – Cohen was a poet and novelist before he was a songwriter. Kaye was happy to share a first name with Cohen. Then he performed “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On” from the Phil Spector produced Death of a Ladies’ Man using his arms and legs to dance and act out lyrics. Both the reading and the song had everyone laughing. This was a true celebration – not a somber affair but a time to share stories and enjoy Cohen’s wit and bawdy humor. Teddy Thompson (another child of) sang two songs – “Tower of Song” and “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” Once Cohen asked Thompson what he was working on and he said he was working on a country album. Replied Cohen, “I went country myself. Once.” Thompson is a master at doing covers and this night was no different. Thompson was followed by another audio recording of Leonard Cohen – “All You in White.”
Josh Ritter told a funny story of playing a small club in Los Angeles and knowing that Leonard Cohen lived nearby so he was keeping an eye out while he was in the back doing “things.” Then he saw a man with a hat walking like a senator going down the alley and he knew it had to be Leonard Cohen and he chased after him only to run into the mirror of a semi-truck, falling down, and missing his chance of meeting Cohen. Ritter performed a sweet version of “Chelsea Hotel #2.” Ian O’Neill took on “Memories” as if it was a number from the 1940s. Elvis Perkins (another child of) did a wonderful job on “Is This What You Wanted?” Richard Thompson (the only father of) did two songs. There was that ye olde English way of his for “Story of Isaac” and a fabulous “Bird on the Wire.” I forgot what happened on stage (I think Thompson said something about playing another gloomy song) but someone from the audience said, ‘Like father, like son,” and Thompson responded, “More like son, like father.” Thompson said he met Leonard Cohen at a BBC session in 1967 but he couldn’t remember anything about it.
We heard another audio recording – “How to Read Poetry.”
“Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material.”
Joan as Police Woman, Holly Miranda, and Jared Samuel performed a fun version of “I’m Your Man.” Outside there was a cold rain and Lee Ranaldo’s version of “Famous Blue Raincoat” reminded us just how brutal it was outdoors. The last “child of” of the night Amy Helm took on “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and she did a wonderful job. There was another audio recording. This time from Leonard Cohen’s interview with The New Yorker, where he talked about a sweet little song he’d been working on and not being sure if he’d be able to finish it. Hearing his voice was bittersweet.
“Listen to the hummingbird
Whose wings you cannot see
Listen to the hummingbird
Don’t listen to me
Listen to the butterfly
Whose days but number three
Listen to the butterfly
Don’t listen to me.
Listen to the mind of God
Which doesn’t need to be
Listen to the mind of God
Don’t listen to me.”
The show ended on very high note with Will Sheff singing “Take This Waltz” and then everyone joining him on stage for “So Long, Marianne.” We were all singing and laughing and crying and then the sound system played Cohen’s closing number from his final shows “Save the Last Dance for Me” and we were all singing and dancing out of the club.
By Carene Lydia Lopez