Concert Review: Robert Burke Warren & Friends (Leonard Cohen Birthday) @ The Local, 09/29/2023
Canadian songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen would have been 89 years old on 9/21. A concert was held to honor his birthday by guitarist and singer Robert Burke Warren along with a band of five musicians. His music and poetry have cast a long shadow over American pop culture.
His songs have been featured in films such as “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” “The Fisher King,” and “Shrek.” They have also been covered by a wide variety of artists, such as John Cale, Johnny Cash, Jennifer Warnes, KD Lang, Joe Cocker, Nick Cave, and Brandi Carlile, and featured on SNL.
Robert Burke Warren’s voice is primarily in the lower register, as was Cohen’s. This was certainly true of the opener, the dark and ominous “Everybody Knows,” a brooding, negative meditation on the state of the world that seems contemporary despite being originally recorded in 1988. “The Future” was based on similar thoughts, but expressed on a global rather than personal scale.
As if in response to “Everybody Knows,” there is the call to action, “First We Take Manhattan.” Further observations on aging, lessons learned from the past, and moving on were expressed in “Tower of Song.” Backup singing by Rachel Loshak, Nancy Howell, and Elizabeth Clark along with understated accompaniment by the band certainly conveyed the energy. A relief from the overwhelming sad emotion was the recitation of the love poem “1000 Kisses Deep,” featuring Suzanne Clark, who moved from her piano bench to be seated in the front with the heart.
Leonard Cohen’s song of unrequited love to the immortal “Suzanne” was performed as a duet between Robert and Elizabeth.
“Tonight Will Be Fine” was truly less serious, with Elizabeth performing on an instrumental break on a kazoo.
“Joan of Arc” tells the story of the teenage martyr who died for France at the end of the Middle Ages and an imaginary conversation she has with the flames that engulfed her at the stake.
“Bird On A Wire” is a light-hearted song that was the title of a romantic comedy from 1990 and maybe his most covered song.
“Dance Me to the End of Love” has a Mediterranean sound to it, although the song’s inspiration, according to an interview with Cohen, was actually music associated with the Holocaust. “The Partisan” is a song adapted about the French Resistance. “Famous Blue Raincoat” was sung as a duet by members of the Local’s crew. “Hallelujah,” perhaps the most coveted of Cohen’s songs, was performed with many of the audience singing along.
“So Long, Marianne” is a final farewell waltz to a long love. The audience was invited to waltz. The set closed with “Come Healing,” the final embrace of life and mortality.
Seeing these songs being performed live gave the listener a chance to hear this music and understand these musicians’ interpretations. Many of these songs, I have heard recorded versions but had heard them live for the first time. Instrumentation was designed to accompany and emphasize the singing. Bass and electric guitar were expert yet placed in the background. Pete Newell’s trap set was an adapted smaller kit to suit the sound needed for this performance.
There were some minor difficulties with the sound system from time to time that sometimes detracted from the performances. Other than that minor quibble, it was a fine evening to get a better appreciation of the music and poetry of the late Leonard Cohen.
- Robert Burke Warren: guitar, lead vocals
- Elizabeth Clark: harp, piano, vocals
- Peter Newell: drums
- Chuck Cornelis: bass (Chris Issak, The Sometime Sinners)
- Peter Dougan: guitar
- Rachel Loshak, Nancy Howell: Special guest vocalists
- Everybody Knows
- Tower of Song
- 1000 Kisses Deep
- Sisters of Mercy
- Tonight Will Be Fine
- The Future
- Joan Of Arc
- Bird On a Wire
- Dance Me To The End of Love
- I’m Your Man
- If It Be Your Will
- The Partisan
- Famous Blue Raincoat
- Who By Fire
- So Long, Marianne
- Come Healing
The Local is one of the latest concert venues to open. The brainchild of Danny Melnick, jazz producer (Freihofer Jazz Festival) and Isabel Soffer, world music producer (GlobalFest), it is in the shell of a converted 1876 Dutch Reformed Church in the village of Saugerties. There is both on-street and off-street parking available. It seats 130 with assorted folding chairs, benches, and couches. A limited bar and food service are available, provided by the Dutch until a liquor license is obtained. The full schedule for the remainder of the year is available at thelocalsaugerties.com.