Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen: The Concert Performances – Including Some Duets You (Probably) Haven’t Heard

This post, a continuation of Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier, focuses on the evolution of the live versions of the song.

Joan of Arc: From Studio Solo To Concert Duet

The live performances of Joan of Arc during the 1970-1975 tours resembled the studio version (a recording of the studio version may be heard at Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier, in that Cohen sang it as a solo with his backup singers relegated to the role of a female chorus “cushioning the imperfections of [his] voice.”1

Update: Hear For The First Time: Leonard Cohen’s Early Studio Recording Of Joan of Arc

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc (Solo)
Olympia, Paris: 19 October 1974

 

In 1976, however, Cohen began performing Joan of Arc with him and female vocalists alternating, singing designated portions of the song, an arrangement that persisted to the last public performance in 2012.

While the introduction of a female singer dramatically changes the presentation, the arrangement of the solo studio version of the song presages the duet versions performed in 1976 concerts and thereafter. Tom Sakic’s comparison of the version on the Songs of Love and Hate and the rendition from the June 17, 1993 Toronto concert, featuring Julie Christensen, found on the Cohen Live album (1994) is instructive:

Joan of Arc is written as a dialog between Joan and fire in which she burns. On the version from the Cohen Live album, Leonard Cohen sings the (male) parts of the narrator and the fire while Julie Christensen sings the (female) part of Joan.

One can, however, hear that male-female pattern in the studio version. Cohen, for example, recites rather than sings the narrative in the opening lines. When Cohen comes in on the second stanza, taking Joan’s role, he shifts from speaking to singing.

In addition, the studio version comprise two overlapped vocals (most obvious in the first and final four lines of ), one sung by Cohen and one recited by him, that augur the male-female duplicity of voices of the performances from 1979 and later.2

In Leonard Cohen: The Music and The Mystique (Omnibus Press, UK: 2012), Maurice Ratcliffe posits a fourth character in the song, in addition to Joan, Fire, and the Narrator:

… noting that the final lines are italicized in the sleevenotes, one becomes aware that these lines are sung by a fourth character. The Bystander ends the song by enunciating the tragic dilemma which he faces: “myself, I long for love and light / But must it come so cruel, must it be so bright?”

For my part, the fact that certain lines are printed in italics on liner notes does not make a compelling argument for introducing another character. It seems flimsy; it also seems an unnecessary deus ex machina. The Narrator is, after all, just the character telling the story. The theme of the song is crystallized and its poignancy enhanced by the storyteller ending the piece with this very personal, very moving observation. Tom Sakic elaborates:

Narrative prose usually has a narrator while lyric poetry has a “lyric subject.” Joan of Arc is a narrative poem or at least a ballad (traditional ballads are always narrative poems), so the voice of the poem (“lyric subject,” speaker) and the narrator are the same entity. The final verse of Joan of Arc seems to me the closure, the final comment from the person who narrated the story of Joan of Arc and her talk with fire in which she burns.3

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Laura Branigan & Cheryl Barnes

Tom Sakic points out that the earliest concert performance in which the “duet version” of Joan of Arc appeared was during the 1976 Tour, during which both backup singers, Cheryl Barnes, & Laura Branigan, sang the Joan of Arc lines, a role that in later years would be assigned to a single vocalist. Tom goes on to point out that the 1976 rendition offered “great instrumentation (piano and viola as well) and some lyric changes” but less satisfactory arrangements of the sections sung by the female singers. In the case of the 1976 Montreux show embedded below, it appears that Barnes and Branigan forgot the lyrics, at which point Cohen abandoned the song with an impromptu declaration that makes it a complete song in a way.4

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Laura Branigan and Cheryl Barnes
Montreux: June 25, 1976

 

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Jennifer Warnes

Warnes, a backup singer for Leonard Cohen on the 1972 and 1979 tours, not only performed Joan of Arc as a duet with Cohen in 19795 but also released a different version of that duet on her album of Cohen covers, Famous Blue Raincoat, in Jan 1987.

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Jennifer Warnes
Brighton Dome, Brighton: 15 December 1979

 

Jennifer Warnes & Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc
From the Famous Blue Raincoat Album

 

Jennifer Warnes also performed a solo version of the song, which can be viewed at Jennifer Warnes Live in Belgium – Joan of Arc

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Julie Christensen

After 1979, Julie Christensen was featured in performances of Joan of Arc, including this rendition from the 1988 San Sebastian show.

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Sharon Robinson

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Sharon Robinson
Amsterdam: October 30, 1980

 

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Anjani Thomas

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Anjani Thomas
Hanover: March 13, 1985

 

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Hattie Webb

After the 1993 tour, Joan of Arc was not performed until the Nov 11, 2012 Portland show when Hattie Webb took on the featured role with Leonard Cohen. Joan of Arc appeared in only one more 2012 concert and was not performed in any 2013 shows.6

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc With Hattie Webb
Portland: Nov 11, 2012
Video by

 

Credit Due Department: Photo of Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen: Courtesy of Jennifer Warnes. The photo of Leonard Cohen & Sharon Robinson was taken by Pete Purnell. Photo of Hattie Webb taken at the Mar 2, 2013 Leonard Cohen Oakland Concert by Soheyl Dahi. The photos of Leonard Cohen with Cheryl Barnes, & Laura Branigan and with Anjani Thomas and the photo of Julie Christensen are video screenshots.

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  1. While Leonard Cohen’s quote specifically describes Sharon Robinson’s impact on his singing, he same effect can be ascribed to all of his backup singers. Source: The Happy Message of the Aged by Sven F. Goergens. Focus: September 15, 2001. []
  2. Tom Sakic, personal communication (with editing) []
  3. Tom Sakic, personal communication (with editing) []
  4. Tom Sakic, personal communication []
  5. Although Warnes was on the 1972 tour, Joan of Arc was performed as a solo by Cohen in those shows []
  6. Statistics courtesy of the all-knowing Roman Gavrilin aka Hermitage Prisoner, []

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