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Category: obituary

New York Artists Remember a Beloved, Legendary Voice Teacher

Barbara Maier Gustern, one of the world’s most beloved and successful vocal coaches, died on March 15 of injuries suffered in a brutal assault in her Chelsea neighborhood five days earlier. She was 87.

She had stepped out of her apartment after rehearsing a cast of cabaret singers when she was struck from behind and fell on the sidewalk on West 28th St. just off Eighth Avenue. A passing cyclist helped her return home, where an ambulance was called. A 26-year-old Long Island resident, Lauren Pazienza, has been charged with manslaughter in the attack.

A tiny woman with a big voice and a larger-than-life presence, Gustern was born in Indiana and came to New York in the 1950s with hopes of becoming a Broadway singer. But she soon discovered an aptitude for teaching. It wasn’t long before she’d become one of the most highly sought after vocal coaches in Manhattan, a stature she relished for over half a century.

Dedicated to preserving the individuality of her clients’ styles, Gustern did not follow a one-size-fits-all approach in her teaching. Her training empowered Diamanda Galas to maintain her stamina through punishing, marathon performances. Gustern made a first-class jazz chanteuse out of Deborah Harry, and helped Tammy Faye Starlite channel iconic voices from Marianne Faithfull to Mick Jagger. Gustern also worked with Carol Lipnik to refine and expand her spectacular four-octave range.

Gustern was a taskmaster and did not suffer fools gladly. But those who studied with her say her influence was transformative.

“Barbara Maier Gustern was my Voice Mother,” says Lipnik. “For eleven years I was lucky enough to cherish her as one of the most important people in my life. At just 4’ 11” no one ever thought of her as small, At 87 years old no one ever thought of her as old. She had the energy of a hummingbird. She never stopped moving. She would bound up and down seventeen flights of stairs to her apartment for exercise rather than taking the elevator. When she would dance at parties no one could keep up with her. She was the matriarch of a whole tribe of downtown artistic misfits that she proudly and lovingly nurtured. She celebrated singularity, individuality, and peculiarity.

I was born with a natural, wild voice, a seemingly unlimited vocal range, and fiercely possessive of my personal sense of expression. I never wanted to study singing because I was afraid that a teacher would damper my spirit and try to me make me sound “Broadway”. Not Barbara, she met me in my world and worked with me to help make me the best and strongest me that I could be. She never pulled punches and always was straight with me when she heard something wrong. I was in awe of her, and scared of her, but I listened to her – me, a person who never, ever listened to a single teacher. She’d humble me to my knees and I’d listen. She had a playful, mischievous side, too. Many times she would have me sing scales higher and higher and higher till I realized it was just for her own sport to see how high I could go – then she’d beam and proudly say: “that was a D!”. Together, we cultivated and nurtured a crystalline quality in my voice so diligently that when I recorded vocals for my “Almost Back To Normal” album I actually had a very bad flu.

You can’t describe Barbara without also mentioning the fabulous fashion sense that she had. I honestly don’t think I ever saw her wear the same thing twice. Cashmere turtlenecks, black leather pants, paisley shirts, animal prints… Once I asked her where she got her famous red cowboy boots and she smiled and said, ‘The little boys department!’

This is not goodbye because I will love her forever. I now am part of her legacy that will carry on and out into to the world through the sound of my voice.”

Penny Arcade echoes that sentiment: “Barbara Maier Gustern was a remarkable person for many reasons. She had charm, talent, good looks well into old age and a desire to contribute to society which she acted upon. But the thing that made her most unusual was that she had made it her business to spend her old age completing her character. Quentin Crisp, the great English raconteur famously said that the function of life is to reconcile our glowing opinion of ourselves with what our friends call ‘the trouble with you.’ Precious few people get to complete their characters, because for one, you have to live long enough. Barbara lived gloriously till she was violently struck down in the street by a demented stranger. At 87 she was vibrant, energetic, busy doing new things like directing cabaret and still singing and teaching. She was still growing , still exploring what it meant to be fully human. She led a charmed life despite many disappointments and personal tragedies and made it to 87. Somehow she managed to emerge not bitter, envious or complacent. She presented a glowing example of how to age into old age with vibrancy, wisdom and fun. She will live on in people’s memories and stories because of her contributions to so many people and her example of what it means to be a fully evolved human being.”

Serena Jost says, “Barbara was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered. She was both the consummate voice teacher and the embodiment of a life well lived. Carol Lipnik introduced me to her and I’m so thankful. I’ve had other wonderful teachers but Barbara helped me find my true voice. Her lessons were both rigorous and fun and blew me away. She was always honest and didn’t have the need to praise for her own sense of well-being – rather, her perceptions were grounded in x-ray vision, honesty and so much caring. She recognized talent and saw my potential in a new way. When I brought in one of my songs, she not only knew what to offer technically but amazingly fully understood the essence of any song. She was very complimentary about my music and then helped me to soar. I think what Barbara loved most – in and out of the studio – was connection, truth and communication. Like the best of teachers, she loved her subject and students as One.

Barbara had boundless energy and came to many of my shows including at Pangea, the Owl and the release of my album Up to the Sky at Saint Peter’s Church in Chelsea. I knew if I’d done well because she would be beaming afterwards. Barbara taught the whole person and it gave her so much joy to see others realize themselves in song. She was such an evolved human, a giver, a mover, a shaker, a mother, a mentor, always purposeful. She was made of steel with a soft giving heart. She gave generously to all she encountered and sought out people in need who she could serve. Barbara had an effervescence that is hard to fully describe but when experienced you knew you were amongst one of the greatest humans around. I hope we may all be inspired by her example and live and give as fully as she did. I am forever grateful to her for giving me the wings of song.”

John Kelly adds, “Barbara Maier Gustern gave me permission to continue to own my voice and honor my desire – my need – to sing. She also gave me confidence – through a more solid understanding of the technique and tools necessary to produce open, supported sound. Barbara was a diminutive but powerful presence and a force that I feel privileged to have known, worked with, and loved.”

In Memoriam: Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey, founder and lead singer of legendary Australian band the Saints, died on April 9 under circumstances which are still not clear. He was 65.

Although Bailey was most commonly associated with punk rock, and returned to a distorted guitar sound with a vengeance in the early zeros, his greatest musical contribution was to the janglerock movement of the 80s and 90s. By the time bands like REM became popular, Bailey had already refined a distinctively clanging, chiming sound, often using the watery chorus effect so popular in 80s guitar music.

Bailey’s songs and career were marked by many dichotomies. He got his start as a teenager in Brisbane fronting the first in a very long line of Australian bands who would emulate the gritty Detroit rock of the Stooges. The Saints’ very first single, I’m Stranded, became iconic in punk circles yet remains far from their best song. Moving to England, the group slowly built an international following, even as Bailey’s supporting cast continued to change with each successive album and tour.

Likewise, Bailey’s songwriting grew more complex, with frequent detours into oldschool R&B, elegantly orchestrated chamber pop and Celtic-flavored balladry. Although known as one of the great, soulful crooners in Australian rock history, Bailey quickly grew into a fine guitarist, flinging chordlets and arpeggios into an intricately multitracked mix.

Bailey’s lyrics are allusive yet imagistic: he could pack several layers of meaning into just a few words. Although themes of cynicism, gloom and alienation pervade his songs, offstage he was a friendly, down-to-earth presence. In a milieu where standoffishness was often the norm, Bailey stood out with his beefy frame, his unruly mane of hair and extrovert personality. Well-read and articulate, he could be devastatingly funny and never met a good pun he could resist. He also earned a well-deserved reputation for the ability to consume prodigious amounts of hard liquor without showing any effects.

The Saints’ best album is the one most people have never heard, since it was never officially digitized. Live in a Mud Hut, recorded on tour in Sweden in 1984 with Brian James of the Damned on guitar, is a foundational moment in the history of janglerock, a mix of some of Bailey’s best songs of the era along with more raucous, R&B-flavored material.

Likewise, many of his best songs are on the obscure side. Give a listen to the chillingly prophetic Brisbane (Security City), from the band’s 1979 album Prehistoric Sounds:

It’s always guarded by the sea
Our prison island is not free
Our hope goes but is still there
It doesn’t alter if you stare
Living room isolation
Extraordinary situation
I see police but where’s the crime?
We’re just like convicts doing time

The best one of them all might be Grain of Sand, one of the most understatedly withering (and catchiest) portraits of despondency and addiction ever written. If you want cynicism, try Follow the Leader (the live version is better but missing from the web). The big international hit was the lush, wryly aphoristic alienation anthem Just Like Fire Would (scroll down a bit for the video).

On a sweltering evening in the early summer of 2003, a future daily New York music blog owner and his girlfriend took the D train up from their Chinatown apartment to the old Roseland Ballroom to see Bailey open a sold-out twinbill with fellow Australian Nick Cave. The aging goths in attendance did not seem very interested in a guy playing solo on twelve-string acoustic guitar, but Bailey projected and sang his guts out into the boomy space. In his own unselfconsciously defiant way, that was more punk rock than anything he could have done with a loud band behind him.

Deepest condolences to his sisters, his many bandmates and all those who had the good fortune to know this fearless, generous soul.

In Memoriam: Gary Brooker

Gary Brooker, the visionary pianist, main songwriter and frontman of pioneering art-rock band Procol Harum, died last Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

If the Beatles invented art-rock, Procol Harum were the world’s first fulltime art-rock band. Blending epic classical grandeur, expansive psychedelia, proto-metal grand guignol and occasional goofy theatrics, they were the first rock band to include two keyboards. Brooker’s piano typically filled the role of rhythm guitar, with Matthew Fisher’s baroque-inflected organ and Robin Trower’s guitar sharing leads.

Procol Harum were also unusual in that lyricist Keith Reid was an official band member, but did not perform with them. Utilizing a flowery, ersatz Byronian vernacular, Reid’s lyrics could be ridiculously over-the-top. Yet they could also be venomously succinct, notably in protest songs like Conquistador or As Strong As Samson.

Brooker developed his signature throaty, expressive, soul-inspired vocal style in the early 60s while fronting British band the Paramounts, who played covers of American R&B hits. He brought along his bandmates, Trower and drummer Barrie Wilson, when he founded Procol Harum in 1967. Although they put out ten frequently brilliant albums in their initial incarnation, their biggest hit single proved to be their first release, A Whiter Shade of Pale, a mashup of Bach and Blonde on Blonde Dylan surrealism. The song is reputedly the UK’s most-played radio single of alltime, as indelibly linked to the decade of the 60s, via innumerable film and tv scores, as Jimi Hendrix’s cover of All Along the Watchtower is here.

Procol Harum were both utterly unique and years ahead of their time: gothic before gothic rock existed, and metal just when that style was sifting out of long-form psychedelia in the early 70s. Although pop acts had made orchestral records as far back as the 1930s, Procol Harum were the first rock band to record a live orchestral album. That 1972 release, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, remains one of the greatest and most foundational art-rock records ever made. Although their influence has waned in recent decades, they had an enormous impact on their similarly ornate colleagues from the 70s, including Pink Floyd, Supertramp, the Strawbs, Nektar and Jethro Tull.

After what was left of the original Procol Harum broke up in 1977, Brooker served as Eric Clapton’s musical director, sang with the Alan Parsons Project and recorded with Kate Bush as well as putting out a handful of R&B albums under his own name. He regrouped Procol Harum in 1991 as a touring project and ended up recording three studio albums with a new supporting cast, although the music lacked the fire and spontaneity of Brooker’s earlier work.

Beyond the live orchestral record, the group’s best studio album is Shine on Brightly, a commercial flop in 1968 despite being the first rock record to feature a sidelong suite, arguably the band’s deepest plunge into psychedelia.

In the fall of 1991, a future daily New York Music blog owner made the long trip to the Town Hall in Manhattan from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn with his girlfriend to see Procol Harum perform their first American concert since the 70s. With Tim Renwick playing a volcanic recreation of Trower’s leads, it was a transcendent show, most of it captured on an old lo-fi Sony walkman recorder. The recorder disappeared with the girlfriend, but the tape remains in this blog’s archive.

In Memoriam: Dallas Good

One of the world’s most mesmerizing, versatile guitarists, Dallas Good of the Sadies died Friday shortly after being diagnosed with an undisclosed coronary condition. He was 48.

Good and his guitarist brother Travis led the Sadies from stardom in their native Ontario to global fame, beginning in the 90s as one of the more bluegrass-oriented of the wave of bands in the alt-country movement. Over the years, they moved further into psychedelic rock, developing a jangly, eerily reverb-drenched sound they called “northern gothic.” They collaborated and recorded with a wide range of artists including Neko Case, Andre Williams and Gord Downie.

Dallas Good was equally adept at twangy country fills, nimble bluegrass flatpicking, serpentine surf rock and long, searing psychedelic passages. Although he propelled the band’s songs to a volcanic intensity onstage, he was the rare lead guitarist whose style was built on subtlety rather than flash. In recent years, he had become the group’s primary songwriter. Sharing lead vocals with his brother, he had a strong baritone voice and a flair for vintage suits.

Offstage, Good was a thoughtful, erudite presence, a connoisseur of vintage guitars and amps, with an encyclopedic knowledge of music that ranged far beyond the band’s many stylistic influences.

In an eerie stroke of foreshadowing, the Sadies’ final single, recorded last year, was titled Message to Belial (a Biblical name for Satan). “The end of all nations, the darkest of ages has come,” the brothers harmonized over the band’s usual plaintive, ominous wash of jangle and clang. Deepest condolences to his family, his bandmates Sean Dean and Mike Belitsky, and everyone who had the good fortune to know him.

In Memoriam: DMX

Charismatic hip-hop star Earl Simmons, best known to the world as DMX and one of the great lyricists of rap’s golden age in the late 1980s and 90s, died today after having been given the needle of death about ten days ago. He was 50.

While many rappers are creatures of the studio, DMX was devoted to performing live. His made both a live album and DVD, and he remains one of the alltime leading rap artists in terms of total concert appearances. Those weren’t just cameos, either: in his classic, gruff delivery, DMX would deliver a full set of crime rhymes, battle numbers, darkly cinematic portraits of inner city survival and the occasional sex joint. He was widely considered as a foundational artist of the east coast hardcore movement.

According to a statement by family members, DMX took the lethal injection in order to facilitate returning to live performance in New York State, which has not yet been liberated from dictator Andrew Cuomo’s fascist restrictions on free assembly. DMX joins baseball Hall of Famer Henry Aaron and champion boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler as victims of the needle of death.

White supremacists have been using people of color as guinea pigs for human experimentation for years: the Tuskegee Experiment is just the tip of the iceberg. If black lives truly matter, it’s time to stop this latest experiment in genetic modification before it becomes a holocaust.

In Memoriam: Jewlia Eisenberg

Everything Jewlia Eisenberg did was big. The way she flashed that knowing smile. That hearty laugh. Her feisty sense of humor and lust for life. Her travels, which took her all over the globe in search of what would become an encyclopedic knowledge of music from across the Jewish diaspora.

Her generosity. She wore her heritage proudly, right down to how she spelled her name. But she didn’t just sit on that vast body of scholarship, or her commitment to social justice. As she saw it, it was only obvious that she should share her passion for, say, Bosnian protest songs or Jewish lesbian ballads from across the centuries, with any random audience who might be where she was.

As the leader of carnivalesque Eastern European folk-punk band Charming Hostess and innumerable other projects, she always found the universality in whatever music she was singing. She was a klezmer maven and also a soul mama, a cinephile, a theatre person and a devotee of dance, and did soundtracks for all of those media. Her repertoire ranged from ancient, witchy Babylonian themes to hip-hop-inspired theatrics and in the end, African-American gospel and blues in her Book of J project with guitar wizard Jeremiah Lockwood. Her career was over far too soon: we lost her this past March 11. Ostensibly, she succumbed to a rare immune disorder: it’s not known if she was given one of the needles of death, but that seems unlikely, considering how smart she was.

She leaves behind considerable scholarly work and an eclectically entertaining discography, both as a bandleader and solo artist. She sang at big auditoriums around the world, and also held down a number of Barbes residencies. She loved making field recordings. Fortuitously, this blog’s archive includes one of Eisenberg singing with Book of J at Barbes in mid-July 2018, a show that got an enthusiastic thumbs-up at the time. Eisenberg would no doubt approve of the idea, if not that the tape still needs to be properly catalogued: she was always as much a consummate pro as bon vivant. Condolences to all who had the good fortune to know her, work with her or witness her charismatic antics onstage.

In Memoriam: Toots Hibbert

Toots Hibbert, the hyperkinetic showman, reggae icon and leader of Toots & the Maytals, died this past September 11 in a hospital in Kingston in his native Jamaica. He was 77.

When he and the Maytals recorded Do the Reggay in 1968, it was a typical pop music attempt at creating a dance meme and selling a few records. But the term outlived the dance by decades, and Hibbert got credit for giving a name to the slinky, ganja-fueled music that had morphed out of ska into rocksteady and was slowing down into even more psychedelic territory by the time he wrote the song.

The group first connected with an audience beyond Jamaica on the wings of their appearance in the film The Harder They Come, performing the wickedly catchy rocksteady hit Sweet and Dandy live in the studio. That subtly cynical wedding-night narrative is one of the strongest tracks on the film’s soundtrack, which was the first exposure to reggae for millions of fans outside of Jamdown.

Hibbert was a consummate frontman, a ball of energy strutting and spinning and getting a serious workout in front of the band, which became known officially as Toots & the Maytals in 1972. With a sweet, Smokey Robinson-influenced delivery that became grittier over the years, and a whirling, astonishingly energetic stage presence heavily influenced by James Brown, Hibbert would typically prowl and spin across the stage for two hours or more as the group behind him vamped along.

The classic Toots & the Maytals album is Funky Kingston, also from 1972. His double live album from 1980 is the closest approximation to a show by one of the most dynamic singers ever to hit the stage: and when he hit it, you felt it. Pressure Drop, pressure drop, pressure gonna drop on you! The Clash, and eventually innumerable other punk and ska bands, would cover that song.

By the 1990s, Hibbert was already past fifty, but he never slowed down. New York concerts in the middle of the decade at places like Tramps and Irving Plaza found him working up a sweat in front of crowds of white fratboys. He knew the deal: people had come out to dance and party, and he was there to deliver. He didn’t talk to the crowd much, leading the group through expansive versions of his big populist anthems and extended dance jams that would go on for fifteen or even twenty minutes. Hibbert continued to tour relentlessly throughout the rest of the decade and beyond.

Hibbert was a consummate professional and a genuinely nice guy. He served jail time for marijuana possession in Jamaica in the 1960s – and wrote one of his biggest hits, the witheringly cynical 54-46 Was My Number while behind bars. He considered himself a Rastafarian but always sported a short haircut. When asked about his hairstyle by Rockers TV host Earl Chin, Hibbert’s response was simple: “Jah trim.” What he meant by that was that Haile Selassie also kept his hair short rather than wearing dreadlocks.

Ironically, Hibbert’s best song was a rare slow one, Get Up Stand Up. Predating Peter Tosh’s song of the same name by a couple of years, this brooding minor-key anthem is one of the most understatedly haunting calls to action ever written. Hibbert’s imperturbable energy, his quirky sense of humor and ironclad logic will be badly missed. Condolences to all those who were lucky enough to know him .

In Memoriam – John Prine

John Prine, the ruggedly individualistic, fiercely populist songwriter and early pioneer in what would become the Americana music movement, died of coronavirus this past Tuesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 73.

Vital to the end, Prine had a tour planned for this year. One of the first artists to successfully break from a big record label to play live and record independently, Prine’s influence over several generations of songwriters was vast. A brilliant lyricist, nimble guitarist and wryly laconic raconteur, Prine chronicled the struggles of working-class Americans with sardonic humor and empathy as they confronted the ugly unattainability of the American Dream. Esteemed by his peers, artists as diverse as Elvis Costello and Steve Earle cited Prine as a formative influence.

Prine got his start in Chicago in the late 1960s while working there as a mailman. During one particular harsh winter, he would take shelter inside mailboxes, where he wrote several of his most popular songs. With the surrealism of Dylan, the aphoristic, down-home sensibility of honkytonk and a defiant workingman’s politics, he had a soft spot for old people and spoke out articulately against the Vietnam War. He could spot a hypocrite a mile away.

Many of his songs – the antiwar anthem Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, the Vietnam veteran chronicle Sam Stone, and Hello in There, the hardscrabble tale of an old couple in the heartland becoming more and more atomized – have become iconic in Americana circles. Among songwriters, simply knowing who Prine is gives you instant cred; being able to cover his songs is even better. Not many did: the most famous one was Bonnie Raitt’s version of Angel From Montgomery, the closest thing Prine ever had to a radio hit.

As the years went by, Prine’s drawling baritone became more weathered: he always sounded twenty years older than he was. And his songwriting never diminished, as he shifted toward rock in the 90s and then a return to his original acoustic sound in this century. Two key albums from his deep catalog include the pseudo-greatest-hits collection Prime Prine, from 1976 and the 2011 archival release The Singing Mailman Delivers, a collection of many of his best-known songs made on the fly at a Chicago radio station.

Prine could be hilarious: give a listen to Illegal Smile, a sly weedhead tale from his 1973 album Sweet Revenge, where the record label tried to recast him as an outlaw country singer, with mixed results: no wonder Prine would go independent. He could also be very, very dark, as you can hear in Down By the Side of the Road, a chilling highway tale from his 1978 Bruised Orange album.

He is greatly missed. Deepest condolences to the Prine family and his many friends.

In Memoriam: Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died yesterday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Of all the soul singers to emerge in the 1960s, Franklin was the most electrifying. She could leap from a murmur or the most delicate melisma to a gale-force wail in a split second. She had timing and sophistication to rival any jazz singer, and breathtaking power across a formidable vocal range. A distinctive pianist who played on most of her albums as well as in concert, she incisively and economically blended blues, gospel and jazz.

The daughter of famed Detroit minister Rev. C.L. Franklin, she had a turbulent early life. Her mother died young. A teenage gospel prodigy, Franklin had two children while still in her teens. Turning to secular music, she found adulation from the Ertegun brothers at Atlantic Records and with their promotion behind her, penned and sang some of the 1960s’ most iconic hit records.

Franklin was a down-to-earth Midwesterner more interested in her craft than celebrity. A solidly built, regal presence onstage, she never let anyone encourage her to adopt a waif look. Loyal to a fault, she kept her hometown band of Detroit musicians together long after the point where everyone in the world wanted to play with her.

She was quick to call bullshit on faulty logic. Her brand of pragmatic feminism had more to do with tearing down obstacles in a male-dominated milieu than with any doctrine or theory. She loved spicy food, to the point of keeping a bottle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt in her purse.

As soul music grew more corporatized, Franklin’s recordings and appearances grew further and further apart. Always an individualist, she didn’t embrace the disco era until it was almost over, and even then, it was a tentative embrace.

Tens of thousands of singers around the world have covered her songs, but none have been able to replicate her fierce command or fearsome vocal technique. Her hit singles, including but hardly limited to Respect, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and Chain of Fools have become anthems for generations of women. 

In the summer of 2011, barely two weeks before this blog first went live, its future owner and a friend went out on the Coney Island boardwalk with a pair of binoculars to see Franklin play one of the last outdoor concerts in the space formerly known as Steeplechase Park (which had been bulldozed by Fred Trump in the 1980s). Backed by a full orchestra, Franklin was dealing with a broken foot and as a result played with understandable restraint, choosing her spots both vocally and at the piano.

Late one night a couple of weeks ago, this blog’s owner’s girlfriend chose the perfect soundtrack for winding down after a sweltering evening that had also begun at Coney Island. That playlist was a Franklin concert recording from the 1980s. Of all the spine-tingling devices she employed, the most memorable one was when she stunned both the orchestra and the audience by flying into a verse a split second before it was time, a thrill she just couldn’t wait to deliver. She is greatly missed.

Leonard Cohen Moves to the Tower of Song

Thanks for the songs, Mr. Cohen.

Who by fire?…
Who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

Iconic, visionary songwriter, prophet of destruction and renewal, and avatar of hope Leonard Cohen made it to 82 before that sacred heart gave out, a day before the election. In lieu of an obituary, here’s the original review of Cohen’s show on June 14, 1993 at the old Felt Forum under Madison Square Garden, reprinted from New York Music Daily’s archive of New York City concert reviews dating back to 1989:

An enjoyable show from the legendary, self-appointed prophet of doom. His nondescript soft-rock band could have been backing anyone from Patricia Kaas to Neil Diamond, but was rescued from Lite FM territory by an excellent electric violinist who doubled on keyboards. Cohen switched between acoustic guitar (he plays impressively well, with a distinctly Mediterranean flavor) and electric piano.They did Bird on a Wire early, fleshed out by the band: since Cohen’s voice is shot, he has two excellent female singers to fill out the vocals. They did Ain’t No Cure for Love shortly afterward, as well as the highlight of the night, a somewhat tired yet still haunting Everybody Knows. The new apocalypse anthem The Future was excellent, as well as Democracy in America, which went over very well with the surprisingly young crowd. Cohen’s music-box electric piano on Tower of Song (sung syncopated, to powerful effect) was as macabre as could be expected. Closing Time was the first of the encores, a rousing, even danceable rendition. All in all, a slightly spooky trip through a universe of decay, despair and sex. No wonder he’s so popular again.