in performance: “hallelujah: the leonard cohen tribute concert encore”

leonard cohen.

The side door to Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center was left open last night during much of the second half of “Hallelujah: The Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert Encore,” presumably to let some cool evening air in to counter the room’s mounting temps. But one had to wonder what any passers by along Elm Tree Lane must have thought as the finale chorus to “Hallelujah” (the benchmark Cohen tune that gave the program its name) spilled out into the street. Was it the product of a prayer meeting? A community sing-a-long? A folk-inspired tent revival?

Well, the concert was a little of all of that, much in the same way an initial Cohen tribute staged last November was. With few variations, last night’s sold-out show featured the same artists singing the same songs as before. But that was essentially the intent. It was a literal encore for local Cohen fanatics, of which there seem to be many, that either didn’t get enough of the November concert or missed it entirely.

The highlights were the same. Doc Feldman and Art Shechet still created an alternately dramatic and meditative séance out of “You Want It Darker,” although last night’s version added in nicely orchestrated piano color from Kevin-Holm Hudson. The trio also performed an equally potent “If It Be Your Will” not included in the November show.

The two song sets by JoAnna James’ trio and Nev’im that closed the second portion of program were the same as before, but none of their insightful command had diminished. James again displayed remarkable conversational dynamics on the relative Cohen obscurity “Ballad of a Runaway Horse” (better known by an earlier 1979 title, “Ballad of the Absent Mare,” as well as through a sublime 1993 recording by Emmylou Harris) while Marilyn Robie confidently led Nev’im through the Brechtian dance hall grace of “Dance Me to the End of Love.”

One notable new entry last night was a lovely reading of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” by Daisy Helmuth that was rich with a vocal delicacy that illuminated the song’s haunting atmospherics. Coolest footnote of the night: Helmuth performed in full formal attire before heading off to her prom.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how the local enthusiasm for Cohen’s music hinted at by the November concert had grown. The fall show was a technical sellout – technical because tickets were free. Last night’s show played to a crowd twice the size with a $15 ticket attached and was also a sellout. Hallelujah, indeed.

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