My Father and I have a long and at times strained relationship over the musical merits of Leonard Cohen. As a child Cohen would be one of the cassettes of choice for long family road trips,it was on those trips where I prayed for a cement mixer to plough into the rear of our car. Despite a perpetually loose seat belt and eyes eagerly looking out the back window for an end to this misery I had to suffer a fate much worse than death - ‘The Future’ on repeat. The completion of those road trips were when I truly committed to atheism.
However much to my Dads mirth and chagrin [and my own personal disappointment in myself] I became an avid Leonard Cohen fan in my early 20’s. Dad has never really been able to grasp such a seemingly sharp right turn in taste but it's really quite obvious, now I was an adult the world wasn’t the rainbow filled, bird chirping, cotton cloud, candy land it once was. No it was now a dark, dreary, filth infested wasteland and I was just another casualty of life. Suddenly Cohens ponderous, monotone, ultra depressing baritone was actually a soothing catch cry for the paradise lost.
Once past transgressions were apologised for [on both sides] our mutual respect and admiration let us bond over his albums/performances on repeat through out the years. Neither my Father nor myself got to see Leonard Cohen perform live before his passing in 2016, we talked about it but the idea of seeing intimate songs performed in front of thousands in an arena setting was not something we had envisioned nor desired to see.
While we had no regrets, curiosity did still enter every now and then so when "Mi Padre" called earlier this week to invite me to see Imperfect Offering - A Leonard Cohen Tribute Act at Baycourt I agreed. And at a bargain $45 a ticket how could we not?
Arriving at Baycourt early we could have been mistaken for entering the waiting room of a retirement centre health clinic. The stench of moth balls, patchouli, and embalming fluid was strong in the air as the 400 plus members of the Tauranga Rotary Club hobbled and cobbled their way to their seats - dragging their dialysis machines, IV drips and mobility scooters as they went... As I watched their wrinkled sun dried Raisin faces grimace with pain as they slowly fell back into the abyss of their fold down chairs I realised I never felt younger - foetus fresh even.
As the lights dimmed and a universal clicking of hearing aids being turned on set a metronomic beat that to the untrained ear could have been mistaken for applause the members of 'Imperfect Offering' made their way to the stage. All dressed in black suits with fedoras it was like seeing 6 Leonard Cohens or at the least 6 Wellington hipsters going to get coffee. Unfortunately someone had failed to tell the bass player what a Fedora actually looked like and had a brim at least 4 inches wider than the rest of the band thus making him look like an expelled member of Mumford and Sons.
Hopes were high and for $45 a ticket Dad and I were prepared to like anything. Well almost anything. My Father put it so succinctly after only one mere sentence of the worst version of 'So Long Marianne' you are ever likely to hear outside of a death mute choir - “Uh oh, he’s butchered it already”. Which he had, oh how he had carved that beast - ripping out the innards, pounding it's juicy meat sweetly and tender and then placing the ravaged carcass in the shop display front with only the words “Come over to the window my little darling” spilled from his lips. As the the beautiful poetry and emotional gravitas of the lyrics were lost in the thinnest reeds of a voice sounding like it was taking a comical stab at an Irish folk Karaoke version of Leonad ‘Celtic’ Cohen we sunk first with terror, then amusement, then more terror as we both realised that this was only the opening song of a 20 song marathon set.
Scan any bar across the country and you would have better luck finding a gravel voiced, bourbon burnt, cigarette stained singer worthy of covering this material than this musical theatre hack, cut price Cohen could.
Things would not improve for our now fragile mental states as Suzanne was unmercifully and undeservedly massacred. What did she do to you guys huh? Nor could we enjoy the dulcet dreamy tones of the finger picked chord progression heard so effortlessly through out the classic album 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' as neither of the two ‘guitarists’ could seemingly finger pick so instead it was a rudimentary version of an already rudimentary song.
Taking a break after his two blunt knife stabs at what he would call a homage but what we, 400 witnesses and the police call homicide - vocal duties were passed over to the adopted out son of Mumford who excelled himself doing a funky, up beat rendition of ‘Who By Fire’ which would have been great if this were a Cat Stevens tribute show. As my mind, eyes and ears wandered I noticed that both the drummer and keyboardist were of Asian descent making me realise that New Zealands skilled labour shortage has spread much further than the reported fields. Thus leaving me fearful that I might soon be replaced in my Bob Dylan tribute band by a newly located immigrant with a greater skill level/work ethic, higher qualifications and yet willing to do so for lesser pay.
‘Bird on a Wire’ was left unrecognisable, ‘the boys down at the morgue are going to have to use the dental records to identify this one Chief’. ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ sung by a non fedora clad female vocalist felt like an overwrought audition for American Idol. ‘Joan of Arc’ would have caused Joan of Arc to burn herself at the stake. Leonard Cohens death in 2016 was a sad event but tonight his death and therefore the end of this set couldn’t come soon enough for us with ‘Who By Fire’ proving to be our trial by fire with the [Bay] court finding ‘Imperfect Offering’ guilty of 7 counts of murder. We here by sentence them to 200 hours music lessons, a refund for my Father and I of $45 each and a city wide ban on ever playing Leonard Cohen songs ever again.
Unable to stomach any more torture we raced up the stairs of Baycourt, bowling Grannies, upending walking frames and fleeing like the victims of a bomb scare. But as we did I noticed that the horror we had endured was not shared by the rest of the crowd with a throng of morgue bound morons benignly smiling and clapping along blindly like it was the second coming of Lenny himself. Was it their age decayed memories causing them to forget or the equivalent of 1/8th of a pension payment deluding themselves into enjoyment? Or maybe they took the name for what it was an ‘Imperfect Offering’, forgave them for their flaws and realised that there was and only ever will be one Leonard Cohen and in lieu of that this was the 467th next best thing.
As for my Father and myself we struggled in the weeks,months, years after. Never truly able to rid ourselves of the atrocities committed on that one chilly night at Baycourt. But together through the nightmares/horrific flashbacks - one day as a family we hope to rebuild and remember Leonard Cohen for who he was not the poor Irish Folk Karaoke he became....