One of the coolest cultural events in recent memory in Philadelphia happened in December when the Gershman Y celebrated the anniversary of Andy Warhol's bringing the Velvet Underground to the building in 1966.
Part of the revelation at the Yo La Tengo / Dean & Britta concert was the Y’s Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium, the second-floor, 1,000-person-capacity balconied ballroom that feels like a hidden gem Center City showplace.
On Thursday, the auditorium will be back in action for "An Evening of Leonard Cohen," a multimedia tribute to the Canadian songwriter and poet who died just over six months ago at 82, shortly after the release of his final album, You Want It Darker.
The evening will have three components. It begins with Ladies and Gentlemen ... Mr. Leonard Cohen, a rarely screened 45-minute film directed by Don Owen and Donald Britten produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1965, when Cohen already had a formidable reputation as a poet but had yet to embark on the music career for which he is best known and widely grieved.
After an intermission, the evening, sponsored by St. Benjamin — the upstart Kensington brewery who were big winners at last week’s Inquirer Brewvitational competition — will proceed with readings of Cohen poems by Philadelphia spoken-word artists Jacob Winterstein, Sarah Bloom, and Natalie Anderson.
Then, music — three songs each by three local acts. Dick Rubin, leader of the buzz-generating funk band Minka, will play a stripped-down set on grand piano (and also perform an after-party at the Barbary later that evening). Sharon Sable of Delaware will perform with her husband, E. Shawn Qaissaunee. Raucous roots-garage band TJ Kong & the Atomic Bomb — named after the Slim Pickens character in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove — closes out the show.
Gershman marketing director Bill Chenevert, who booked the bands, says that with the Warhol night, “we were also thrilled to honor a similar titan in the Jewish rock 'n’ roll universe in Lou Reed. If the Y continues to program music nights and pick-and-choose styles to showcase, 'Jews Who Rock' does not sound unwelcome to me. [With the Cohen program] we’re definitely taking some of the magic that a world-renowned Jew conjured and channeling it on the Avenue of the Arts."
The Cohen movie contains no rock — the most musical it gets is one scene of Cohen strumming a guitar and tooting on harmonicas. The 32-year-old Cohen cracks deadpan jokes and giggles more than you might expect for an artist with a dour reputation. A serious-sounding narrator says, “Cohen finds solace in crowds, and in solitude,” as well as the I Ching. We’re told that “in Greece, [Cohen] lives and loves with a girl named Mariana” and he believes “academic gatherings provide the poet with little more than opportunities for sexual conquest.”
TJ Kong, fronted by Dan Bruskewicz, will perform three Cohen songs — “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy,” “I’m Your Man,” and “Dance Me to the End of Love” — from Cohen’s career phases as an acoustic troubadour, 1980s Eurodisco leading man, and his later elegiac Buddhist-in-a-fedora period.
Bruskewicz’s band, who have just completed a third album, set for release this fall, will put an outlaw country spin on Cohen’s tunes. He’s an unabashed fan of the poet’s singing. “I love how he uses his voice,” he says. “No matter what the musical style is, he always sings the same way. And he doesn’t even really sing that much. He barely performs. But it’s like he’s some sort of vehicle. He has a stage presence you can feel even if you’re only listening to the records. He commands your attention in a very convincing, unique way.”7 p.m. Thursday at the Gershman Y, 401 S. Broad St. $45. 215-545-4400.