April 13, 2012

Concert #432 - Perla Batalla Presents The Gospel Of Leonard Cohen at the Royce Hall (February 24, 2007)

Five years after the show, I still get the goosebumps just thinking about the unbelievable array of performers and the beauty of the music they delivered on February 24, 2007, at UCLA's Royce Hall. Having the opportunity to witness shows like this is one of the perks of living in Los Angeles, never mind the earthquakes, floods, fires, smog, traffic and the occasional riot.

LA's own Perla Batalla, Leonard Cohen's longtime backup singer, acted as the evening's MC. It was my introduction to a singer whose great voice and confident stage presence gave her instant musical credibility in my eyes.

Musicians kept coming and going, yet one thing remained constant: the beauty of Leonard Cohen's music. I knew most of the songs and it was great fun listening to all those different renditions coming from artists whose musical directions had little to do with one another. Here's the set list:

Suzanne - Perla Batalla
Dance Me To The End Of Love - Bill Gable & Perla Batalla
The Land Of Plenty - Howard Tate
Chelsea Hotel No. 2 - Bill Frisell (instrumental)
Ain't No Cure For Love - Julie Christensen
Waiting For The Miracle - Jackson Browne
First We Take Manhattan - Jill Sobule
Coming Back To You - Michael McDonald
Sisters Of Mercy - Martha Gonzalez
Tacoma Trailer - Bill Frisell (instrumental)
Bird On The Wire - Perla Batalla
Tower Of Song - Howard Tate
Famous Blue Raincoat - Martha Gonzalez
A Thousand Kisses Deep - Jackson Browne
If It Be Your Will - Julie Christensen
Ballad Of The Absent Mare - Javier Colis / Perla Batalla
El Carnicero (The Butcher ) - Javier Colis
Who By Fire - Jill Sobule
Anthem - Julie Christensen & Perla Batalla
Democrazy - Dave Alvin
Hallelujah - Michael McDonald & John Adams Middle School Madrigal Singers

Three songs in particular are hard to forget. "The Land Of Plenty", delivered by the great Howard Tate in the true fashion of an old-school soul singer, remains to this day one of the best live moments I have ever witnessed. Just as electrifying was "Anthem", stunningly sung by Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla. Closing the show and thoroughly exciting the crowd, Dave Alvin performed "Democracy" in a style that is hard to describe in words.

Howard Tate

Jill Sobule turned out to be the revelation of the evening - she sang "First We Take Manhattan" and "Who By Fire", and both interpretations were top-notch. Surprisingly, I also liked Michael McDonald, a singer whose vocal style has never been my cup of tea. Particularly good was his rendition of "Hallelujah", performed together with a children's choir.

Jill Sobule
Michael McDonald
Spain's Javier Colis and Southern-Californian Martha Gonzalez added an enjoyable Latin twist to Cohen's music, as both sang their songs in Spanish. Martha also sang in English. Howard Tate's other song of the evening, "Tower Of Song", was another highlight - I absolutely loved his soulful falsettos. I did not know any of the two songs chosen by Jackson Browne, and maybe that is why I was less impressed with those.

Prior to their brilliant pairing on "Anthem", Julie and Perla had their equally great solo moments. I particularly liked Perla's "Bird On A Wire".

Perla Batalla
Julie Christensen

The house band was lead by guitar maestro Bill Frisell. Additional instrumental backup was provided string wizard Greg Leisz, percussionist Debra Dobkin, drummer Don Heffington, bassists Kevin McCormick and Don Was, pianist Karen Hammack, among others.

Bill Frisell

My secret hope of having Leonard Cohen himself make an unannounced appearance did not materialize, but even so, it was an unforgettable evening.

UCLA's Royce Hall

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