Madonna was not on hand for onetime collaborator Patrick Leonard’s solo debut Tuesday night (Sep. 12), but Joe’s Pub in New York vibrated with her spirit as he revisited and reimagined 13 of their best co-creations in an instrumental show that attracted fans from across the country — and at least one all the way from Japan.
Leonard, 61, the accomplished songsmith most recently known for his work with the late Leonard Cohen, co-wrote and co-produced songs with Madonna for over 20 years, including some potent hits she presents on tour to this day (“Like a Prayer,” “La Isla Bonita,” etc). Even so, he told the audience he didn’t realize there was a demand for him to perform the classic tunes until he joined Instagram.
When Leonard began sharing snippets of recently unearthed demos, including the unreleased “Angels with Dirty Faces,” he saw the rabid reaction and asked mega-fan John D. Lee to arrange the sold-out NYC gig as a way to embrace his legacy of work with Madonna.
Except for the set’s openers, “Live to Tell” and “La Isla Bonita,” which he played on Madonna’s 1987 Who’s That Girl World Tour, Leonard said, “I have never played these songs for people… The day we recorded it was the last time I played it.”
With Leonard on keyboards and modular synthesizer, Madonna vet Bruce Gaitsch, co-writer of “La Isla Bonita,” on guitar; and Doug Yowell on drums, “An Evening with Patrick Leonard” boasted a nostalgic set list, but Leonard seemed determined to find new melodies in the old tunes, presenting them in sometimes radically revamped arrangements.
Here are some highlights from Patrick Leonard’s Joe’s Pub performance:
Leonard kicked things off with “Live to Tell,” a No. 1 smash for Madonna on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1986, and the lead single from her multi-platinum True Blue album. The spacy rendition twinkled, sounding like a distant cousin to “Borderline.” It meandered in the way the single did, albeit far less ominously, which Leonard has noted elsewhere displeased Madonna’s then-label, Warner Bros., who feared radio stations would not warm up to a six-minute opus that stopped… and started… and stopped.
Jessie’s in the House
“Dear Jessie,” a Beatles-esque album track from Like a Prayer (1989) that was a top 10 hit in Europe, received a faithful rendition and came with an introduction. The Jessie of the title, Leonard’s daughter Jessica Leonard, now a screenwriter, was in the crowd, as was her brother Jordan Leonard, a visual mapper. (Leonard’s other son, musician Sean Leonard, was not in attendance.) Jessica was mobbed by autograph-seekers after the show, a surreal scene to rival that of the song’s trippy vision of “pink elephants and lemonade.”
When, according to Leonard, he and Madonna were asked to craft an album’s worth of songs “inspired by” Madonna’s film Dick Tracy (1990), they had to turn in ‘30s-style numbers that would work alongside the three that legendary composer Stephen Sondheim had already provided for the movie, including future Oscar winner “Sooner or Later.” To the surprise of many, Madonna was right at home in Tin Pan Alley. One of the songs she wrote with Leonard, the vampy “He’s a Man,” was given a sensual strut Tuesday night that underscored its lost potential as a single. Lacking the dialogue from the movie that punctuates the original song, Leonard wickedly inserted a campy exchange between screen queens Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland from 1964’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte that ended with Davis shrieking, “You’re a vile, sorry little bitch!” (“Bitch I’m Charlotte”?).
Only two singles were released from I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy — the No. 1 Hot 100 hit “Vogue” that Madonna wrote with Shep Pettibone and the Leonard co-creation “Hanky Panky,” an ode to erotic spanking that hit No. 10 back in 1990 but failed to make the cut at Joe’s Pub in 2017.
Another Leonard work from I’m Breathless, the achingly regretful love song “Something to Remember” — which would later be included on Madonna’s 1995 ballads collection of the same title — found its way onto Leonard’s solo set list, eliciting cheers of approval in the room.
Receiving positive feedback from the crowd, Leonard warmly noted, “You’re like children I forgot I had… children that pay.”
Tidbits on Madonna the Musician
Leonard spoke between songs, providing a glimpse of what it was like to record with Madonna. A defender of her talent, Leonard recalled, “What would happen is I would go to the studio in the morning and write something and then she’d come in the afternoon and we’d put the song down. Many times it was the vocal that she sang that day that was [on] the [final] record… She’s a bad-ass — make no mistake.”
Incredibly, “Oh Father,” one of Madonna’s most complex songs (it hit No. 20 on the Hot 100 in 1989, ending her string of 16 consecutive top 5 and 17 consecutive top 10 singles), was apparently a speedy production. “When we did that song,” Leonard said after performing it, “when we got to mix, the record button had only been pushed twice — once to record the band and her vocal and once to record the orchestra.” He smiled while remembering a fight he had with Madonna when she wanted to double her vocal on the choruses, which would mean they’d have to push record a third time. When a fan called out to ask who won that battle, Leonard laughed. “What do you mean, ‘Who won?’ Whose picture is on the album cover?”
Father of Re-Invention
Telling the crowd he hoped not to “piss anyone off” by tinkering with cherished classics, Leonard took a risk on the Who’s That Girl soundtrack (1987) number “The Look of Love,” giving it a Kraftwerk-style intro via the modular synth and bleeding from that into 1998’s “Skin” from Ray of Light. Fans concurred at an informal meet-and-greet after the show that “Skin” had been a hard-driving, foot-stomping highlight. Leonard had five writing credits on Ray of Light-era tunes. Along with “Skin,” he gave fans a radically dissonant “Frozen,” whose familiar melody was nearly consumed by a sampled undercurrent.
For his final number, Leonard offered “Like a Prayer,” arguably his most famous and enduring hit with Madonna. The version was nostalgic and true blue to the single, which hit No. 1 in 1989, so much so that the room sang the entire song to him, including the gospel ad-libs.
The assembled Madonna devotees gave Leonard a standing ovation, suggesting that even without his voice, he had taken them there.
Afterward, Lee promised this was the first of “many, many” more Leonard solo gigs, the next of which is expected to take place in Los Angeles in the near future.
“Live to Tell”
“La Isla Bonita”
“He’s a Man”
“Something to Remember”
“Promise to Try”
“The Look of Love”
“Love Makes the World Go Round”
“Like a Prayer”