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Marc Cohn – An Evening at the MIM

Schubert: A Review of Marc Cohn’s performance at the Musical Instrument Museum on Sunday, November 13, 2016

Schubert. Yes, for me, seeing Marc Cohn was kind of like listening to Schubert.


Okay, let me explain. Before this concert, I didn’t know the music of Cohn worth anything—I actually had never even heard of him at ALL. Folk Rock ain’t my thing—I’ve listened to some Dylan, some Nick Drake, and others, but this really isn’t my neck of the woods as far as music is concerned. This is where the Schubert reference comes in. I have listened to a number of songs by Schubert in my day, and I have come to really recognize Schubert’s prowess in composition as well as the beauty and genius of his oeuvre. He is truly a master of his craft—the technical equal of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and many other composers that are dear to my heart—but that being said, it’s not specifically my style of music. When his pieces play on the radio as I drive to work, I love listening to them and recognize them for the masterworks they are, but when I get home, my interests are drawn to others. Marc Cohn occupies a similar space for me in the genre of Rock.

Please don’t misinterpret this as saying that I found anything about Cohn’s performance on November 13th at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix to be negative AT ALL. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and special performance by this artist who has been performing for the last twenty-five years. I am glad that I have the opportunity to write this review because it put me into a position to listen to something that I would not have otherwise.

His approach to live performance was laid back and personal. The quartet on stage that night consisted of Cohn on the piano, guitarist Kevin Barry, Joe Bonadio on scant but significant percussion, and Chris Palmaro on Leslie-laden Hammond Organ. He opened up the show with his popular track "Silver Thunderbird"—the song that seemed to stay with me the most out of the whole set list. It didn’t have any pretense; it was just Cohn relating memories of his father when he was a child. I have since listened to the studio version of this song (the one with the video online), and it sharply pales in comparison to his live, heartfelt version that I heard at the MIM. It sounded so much more sincere, and lacked the almost plastic slickness of the original.

Another song that stuck out for me was an early deep track of his called "Blow On Chilly Wind." I almost suspect that Elton John’s "Candle in the Wind" was a strong inspiration for this song. The feeling and a few cadences seemed similar in some ways. This didn’t take away from the spirit of his performance. In this case, there was much more similarity between what I heard on stage, and what he delivered in the studio. It would not surprise me if Elton John’s work was an influence on this song; all through his career, Cohn was inspired by the great singer/songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as the great Blues artists who inspired them. Being the link in the chain that he is, he now inspires others.

YouTube | Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn (1991 - Official Music Video)

The most popular song by Cohn was played near the end—a piece inspired by Blues pianist and singer Muriel Wilkins called "Walking in Memphis." The Leslie on Palmaro’s Hammond was particularly prominent in this song, and at its end the audience rose in (much-deserved) standing ovation. I need to admit, however, that my interest was more taken by his one-song encore performance—another popular song called "True Companion." Cohn half-cleared the stage for this one, making it a keyboard duet with Palmaro. It was a light, perfect ending to the show, much like enjoying a small sweet dessert after eating a meal of complex, balanced flavors at a restaurant.

From beginning to end, nothing in his show was heavy or over-weighted in sound. It was a very pleasant evening. I may never buy a Marc Cohn album, or have any of his pieces in my iTunes library, but I can definitely admire his brilliance not only for songwriting, but also for his well-seasoned and mature arrangement and delivery to a live audience.

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