Gig Review: Leonard Cohen Celebration @ The Lantern
by Polly Hember.
The deep, dark, gravelly voice of Canadian singer-songwriter, his legacy and his incredible oeuvre was celebrated by a collection of talented, passionate Leonard-loving individuals. Organised by Jesse D Vernon of The Fantasy Orchestra, Jimmy Goodrich, Nuala Honan, Emily Breeze and many more, this was a beautiful but slightly bizarre evening at the Colston Hall’s Lantern.
I would struggle to believe that the Lantern has ever seen more singers on it’s modest stage. This event saw musicians and poets come together with The Fantasy Orchestra to perform a selection of Cohen’s music. The Fantasy Orchestra is a community project with over 40 members, with drums, two basses, cellos, a brilliant strings section, a strong choir, a xylophone and much more. Led by Canadian singer-songwriter Goodrich and The Fantasy Orchestra’s founder and conductor Vernon, different singers took to the forefront of the incredibly squished stage, climbing over guitar necks and wonky music stands to perform a piece, backed by the orchestra and choir. Interspersed by brilliant quotes from Cohen, and moving original poetry inspired by the singer’s death by Tim Burroughs and the Bard of Windmill Hill; the overflowing respect, appreciation and admiration for Cohen was felt profoundly.
"The depth and emotion of the music, however, was negated by the interjection of conductor Vernon."
The music itself was fantastic. Everyone has heard a fairly naff version of ‘Hallelujah’, but this celebration avoided any of this and instead delivered authentic, emotive and beautifully performed covers. Emily Breeze’s duet with Goodrich was a highlight, along with an incredible rendition of ‘Chelsea Hotel’. Nuala Honan and Goodrich managed to get everyone in the audience singing along to ‘So Long, Marianne’, which isn’t always easy in a seated concert. Goodrich delivered soulful renditions of many Cohen covers; achieving the gruff honestly that makes much of Cohen’s oeuvre so captivating.
The depth and emotion of the music, however, was negated by the interjection of conductor Vernon. Perhaps it just wasn’t the stage for an orchestra; the modest small square stage is raised slightly from the seated audience, and every square inch of space was filled with the orchestra and performers. Thus, wherever Vernon stood, he would not be seen by the full orchestra. This meant he kept flitting and fluttering from corner to corner, introducing songs and then staying behind the singer, attempting to direct the orchestra from mid-stage, left, right in front of the audience, standing on a wobbling block, or else bizarrely sitting cross-legged in the middle of the performers and listening.
This nervous fluttering about the stage and at the peripheries and the flipping through piles of sheet music dispersed around the stage, was off-putting to say the very least. A shame, because the music and collaborative efforts were so effective.
However, this was a shame that didn’t seem to infringe on the audience’s enjoyment of the evening. Captivated by the music and with generous applause after every singer, the room was comprised of love of music, both on stage and in the audience. This love was palpable; Cohen’s songs mean so much to so many people and will continue to resonate profoundly with new listeners and fanatics alike, even in his death. This celebration was delivered in a haphazard and eccentric manner, crammed on a small stage with a distracting conductor who couldn’t keep still, but was nonetheless a beautiful and important collaborative celebration put on by talented musicians and a brilliant orchestra. Saving ‘Hallelujah’ till the encore, they had everyone singing along, full of appreciation and “aching in the places” that Cohen used to play in.
Photo via The Colston Hall.