Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Having been intrigued and entranced by a previous Stewart D’Arrietta show, “Tom Waits For No Man”, experienced late one night at an Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the possibility a second helping of D’Arrietta, this time exploring the songbook of Leonard Cohen, was an irresistible temptation.
It was hard to avoid the impression that The Famous Spiegeltent at 6.30 on a hot Canberra autumn day was not the natural habitat of this extraordinary singer/songwriter, or of his excellent band. They all looked as if they would be much more at home in some smoky environment in the wee small hours of the morning. But once the music started, it was obvious that this show was all about the songs, and therefore would have been just as arresting had it been performed in the middle of Hyde Park, or the local church hall.
Hunched over a keyboard, centre stage, facing his audience, D’Arrietta presents a compelling persona. His voice is frayed and shredded, and he sings as if every note will be his last. But he hits all the right notes, with often idiosyncratic phrasing of Cohen’s lyrics to expose exactly the nuance D’Arrietta wants you to relish and consider.
Between songs he provides a good-natured context. Sometimes with some facts about Cohen, or the story behind the writing of the song, or even just some apparently random thought which sets the mood. Never too much information, just the right amount. D’Arrietta knows how to connect with his audience, everyone is his friend.
The intensity of his delivery is fascinating, with his excellent band completely in tune with his interpretation, especially Michael Klooger with his sensitive accordion interpolations, and Sonny Amoreena with her unobtrusive backing vocals.
All of Leonard Cohen’s best known songs are included in the generous selection, including “Suzanne”, “Everybody Knows”, So Long Marianne”, “I’m your Man” and of course, “Chelsea Hotel”. There’s the rabble-rousing “First We Take Manhattan” and an intense version of “Hallelujah”. The introduction of an unusual instrument called a Keytar, a birthday gift from John Waters, and played by D’Arrietta, added additional texture to the performance.
“My Leonard Cohen” is touring widely and certainly worth your time especially if you enjoy the music of Leonard Cohen, but particularly for the opportunity to experience the remarkable Stewart D’Arrietta in live performance.