Came So Far for Beauty

An Evening of Leonard Cohen songs, Brighton 2004

By Michael Kemp

Review of Came So Far for Beauty- An Evening of Leonard Cohen songs, featuring Rufus Wainwright, Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave, the Handsome Family, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jarvis Cocker, and Beth Orton at the Brighton Dome, Brighton, .

…In the evening we went down to Brighton Dome for “Came So Far for Beauty - An Evening of Leonard Cohen songs”.

Things kicked off, a little after 7.30pm, with an ensemble performance of “There Is A War” from “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” by all artists present, and then onto a series of various solo and group renditions: always reverential to the spirit of Cohen’s music, sometimes eccentric, idiosyncratic - never anything less than inspired and wildly entertaining.

Young Rufus Wainwright bounced onto stage in a fetching b&w scarf and enthralled with wayward spirited versions of “Hallelujah”, “Chelsea Hotel #2” and an almost Carmen Miranda take on “Everybody Knows” (sans fruit, but only because he couldn’t find any). He also said how much he liked Brighton (“nice little city you’ve got here”) and dedicated the evening to George IV (“who knew how to party…”).

the Handsome Family, Rufus Wainwright, Laurie Anderson and Nick Cave

Laurie Anderson stepped out onto stage and performed uncharacteristically quiet and moving versions (singing not talking, she has a sweet unaffected voice when she’s out of character) of “The Guests” and “If It Be Your Will”; while Nick Cave swaggered on in a three-piece suit and weighed in with rumbustious takes on “I’m Your Man” and “There Are No Diamonds In The Mine”, plus a more restrained “Suzanne”.

The Handsome Family (an unknown quantity for me until tonight) provided droll measured renditions (“hi we’re the Americans and we’ve come to dumb it down”) of “Ballad of the Absent Mare”, “Famous Blue Raincoat” (which they did really well in spite of my initial doubts), and “Heart with No Companion”.

Kate & Anna McGarrigle contributed fine harmonic versions of some of the earlier songs “Seems So Long Ago Nancy”, “Winter Lady” and “You Know Who I Am” - but the undoubted highlight of the evening, for me at least, has to be Jarvis Cocker’s fin de siècle/fin du monde duet with the game Beth Orton on the 9 minute Spector track “Death of a Ladies’ Man”.

Ah the man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread
“I never even knew how much I wanted you” she said
His muscles they were numbered and his style was obsolete
“Oh baby, I have come too late” she knelt beside his feet

This was an ambitious undertaking, to put it mildly, and it was the one song of the evening to go straight to my nervous system, no chaser. Probably helped in no small part by Jarvis’s idiosyncratic body language to illustrate lines like: “She said I’ll make a space between my legs, I’ll call it solitude.”

Not far behind in the impressive stakes, though, was Beth Orton’s own unusual interpretation of “Stories of The Street” with a haunting Middle-Eastern arrangement and banshee wails from Perla Batalla & Julie Christensen (Leonard Cohen’s original backing singers, here as special guests).

Finale was a full-throttle barnstorming ensemble reading of “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On” featuring a front line of Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave and Teddy Thompson (son of Richard & Linda); backed by all ladies present (Beth Orton getting into the spirit of things with provocative leggy dance routine with the girl from Handsome Family!).

Hal Willner, who had organized the programme and presented it previously in Brooklyn, came on and took a well-deserved round of applause, as did all the artists. A standing ovation shook the foundations of the Dome, but no encore (“we don’t know any more” said Linda Thompson).

A fitting end to this year’s May Festival and a resolute stroll out into the night for a few last beers at the Famous Spiegeltent, hoisted up in the Pavilion Gardens.

They locked up a man who wanted to rule the world. The fools, they locked up the wrong man…