Monsieur Camembert’s Leonard Cohen Show

City Recital Hall, August 26


m cam 3 res
Monsieur Camembert. Photo supplied.

Corralled into a show nearly three hours long, the songs, poetry and musings of Leonard Cohen became less a concert and more a diary of what it means to be human. Gathered like exhibits at our judgement were our lusts, sorrows, joys, betrayals and munificence. Glaringly absent was our pettiness and mundanity. Cohen liked us – liked himself – to be feeling rather than merely existing; empathising rather than merely observing.

Over the decade of its periodic appearances Monsieur Camembert’s Leonard Cohen Show has evolved and matured. If not quite flawless, in many ways it is a superior exploration of Cohen’s oeuvre to Hal Willner’s much vaunted Came So Far for Beauty. Where Willner’s show shone a spotlight on its stars, Monsieur Camembert’s, at its best, simultaneously generates fresh perspectives on Cohen’s astonishing work and exposes deeper truths.

The band’s leader, Yaron Hallis, has grown as a singer and interpreter across the years and his players have found ever more nuanced ways to stamp their personalities on the music. A crucial feature is the incorporation of between-song spoken-word elements – whether recordings of Cohen, himself, or delivered by Hallis – creating contexts and illuminating lyrics.

Although some overly histrionic moments occasionally intruded, all singers had at least one song that fitted them ideally. Hallis’s was The Gypsy’s Wife; Deborah Conway’s A Singer Must Die; Susie Bishop’s Suzanne; Diana Rouvas’s Dance Me to the End of Love; Abby Dobson’s Famous Blue Raincoat and Hallelujah. Amid near-perfect sound the band effected a refined ebb and flow of dynamics, heightening the drama and shading the tenderness. As exceptional as all six players were, Eddie Bronson deserves special mention for the tidal waves of humanity that periodically flooded from this tenor saxophone.

That a local band can move from a 150-seater club into a 1200-seat theatre and still sell out should be a massive wake-up call to Sydney Festival. Indeed if those involved don’t understand the implications they should be replaced.

Monsieur Camembert’s Leonard Cohen Show: Camelot Lounge, September 20.