For the second time in four years, Leonard Cohen brings his bolo tie and baritone to Calgary, this time at the Saddledome. It won’t be as intimate as his 2009 show at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, but 2009 reviews from friends in Edmonton said he made Rexall Place feel like Cohen’s neighbourhood coffeehouse.
Hyperbole tends to flow from people not used to spouting hyperbole after they sit through the 78-year-old’s charming, three-hour trips through his catalog.
Almost as good, and sometimes better, are the many sublime covers from the many, many artists who take on the poet’s unparalleled lyrics. With some great difficulty and some lousy brandy, I divined a list of 10 must-hear Cohen covers.
10) R.E.M., First We Take Manhattan. From the I’m Your Fan compilation. “Remember me, I used to live in music. Remember me, I brought your groceries in” — with an anxious urgency only Michael Stipe can offer.
9) Buck 65 and Jenn Grant, Who By Fire. Rich Terfry at his whispering best, and Jenn Grant is reliably angelic. The instrumental break will stop you in your tracks, so best put down that chili spoon now.
8) Beck, So Long Marianne. This song, for Beck’s record club, captures the celebration of the original without sacrificing his Beckness. If you want to something weird and fairly blasphemous, view his Suzanne.
7) Willie Nelson, Bird on a Wire. The late Johnny Cash‘s “Unearthed” cover may get more attention, but to me the definitive country cover is by Ol’ Willie.
6) Feist, Closing Time. From the new Sarah Polley film, Take This Waltz. I did not think this song could be covered. One should never doubt Feist. This clip from the movie, which bobs in and out of the unreleased song.
5) Teddy Thompson, Tonight You Will Be Fine. What is it about second-generation musicians that make them so deft at Cohen covers? See #4, #1 below.
4) Martha Wainwright, Tower of Song. A song it took her a while to realize reflected how she felt about music. I saw her play this at a bar in Berlin; I was there by myself, but the Montrealer-on-Montrealer performance brought me very close to home sweet Canada.
3) Antony, If it Be Your Will. The humble singer stands before his Lord. Through his humility, he reaches such great heights.
2) Tori Amos, Famous Blue Raincoat. Tenderly captures the sadness, the mystery — in the way Tori Amos can slow down anything on a piano without actually making it feel like a ballad.
1) Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah. Yeah, I like the k.d. lang version immensely as well. But nothing drips sexuality like Buckley’s version. Yeah, I know that Hallelujah covers are the most overdone thing this side of Gangnam Style parodies. Don’t care. This is one of my favourite songs, full stop.
personally, i've never heard a leonard cohen cover i liked