Reviewer Patrick Donovan
These types of nights aren't supposed to happen until you're dead. Came So Far for Beauty, which runs for three nights as part of the Sydney Festival, feels like a wake for a respected songwriter or band - only they are celebrating the living treasure Leonard Cohen, for only the third time after performances in Brooklyn's Prospect Park and the English seaside town of Brighton.
One can't help thinking upon arrival that this is a Clayton's event - surely it would be better witnessing the Poet Laureate of Pessimism in the flesh. He's still making pretty cool albums, retains his chocolate velvet baritone, and after a stint in a Zen Buddhist temple, he seems to have found what was eluding him and driving many of his melancholy songs - no, not the perfect woman, but peace.
But hang on a minute - this band on stage is pretty darn good, offering understated orchestral and country arrangements of Cohen's songbook of love and sorrow. Even Cohen's original backing singers, Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, are there to give an authentic touch to the songs. Nick Cave's there, of course - he's learnt a few things about the love song from the master.
He's dressed in black, singing a sublime version of Suzanne, a slow funky take on I'm Your Man and one of Cohen's nasty ones, Diamonds in the Mine. Cohen would never dance this well on stage.
Also backing Cave are Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who provided back-up vocals on Cave's Nocturama album. And Kate's kids, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, who all sing together in harmony. Sunday afternoon must have been a hoot at their place.
And there's Beth Orton, singing Sisters of Mercy in denim shorts and with legs up to here. Now Orton's singing Death of a Ladies Man with Pulp's Jarvis Cocker. He can dance, and they ham it up, tapping into Cohen's dark sense of humour and sexual mischievousness, breaking the generally downbeat tone of the evening.
Here comes husband and wife duo Rennie and Brett Sparks, the Handsome Family. They plug into Cohen's gothic storytelling on the most contemporary song of the night, A Thousands Kisses Deep, a song that Rennie says took place at the bottom of the sea. Rufus Wainwright camps it up for a cabaret version of Everybody Knows, but sticks to the script for Chelsea Hotel and Famous Blue Raincoat.
Teddy Thompson's sardonic take on The Future is pretty good, as is Martha Wainwright's sassy honky tonk reading of Tower of Song.
Many of Cohen's songs deal with love, so they can be sung by either gender, but the best moments come when male and female voices intertwine, as if making love. The last-minute ring-in for the night, a man who goes simply by the name of Anton, was last heard in Australia singing Nico's Velvet Underground parts on Lou Reed's tour.
He uses his quivering, angelic voice to great effect in a superb duet with Cave on the rollicking all-in finale, Don't Go Home With a Hard On.
But it is Cohen's signature song, Bird on a Wire, that really floors the crowd. It's his confession, his My Way, and is sung by Batalla, who says the song is very important to her. "I have tried in my way to be free," she sings with great empathy and understanding.
We really hope you are, Leonard.