Billed as “Lloyd Cole: The 1983 – 1996 Songbook”, tonight’s date at the lovely Birmingham Town Hall is part of a globe-trotting tour that has been going on now for some months. That period was Cole’s most commercially successful and saw him release seven hit albums, three with his band Lloyd Cole & The Commotions and four solo efforts.
Anyone following Cole on Twitter, where he is a constant delight, may have seen him post pre-gig warnings such as “On stage 8pm sharp. Don’t be late or you will miss ‘Rattlesnakes’.” It is, therefore, a surprise when he strolls onto the stage, picks up an acoustic guitar and goes straight into ‘Patience’, perhaps the (relatively) unsung highlight of the classic Commotions debut Rattlesnakes, rather than its title track. It isn’t far behind, though, following an, erm, perfect ‘Perfect Blue’, setting the bar high early on.
The show is split in two: “I am my own support band,” quips Cole when explaining tonight’s programme. He is a self-deprecatingly likeable presence throughout, addressing a playful “You’re not getting any younger, either,” comment to the audience, most of whom are in a similar age bracket to the head Commotion himself. So, the first half is just Cole plus acoustic guitars, but in itself would have sent the audience home happy, such is the quality of the material at his disposal. He supplements his self-penned songs with a tender cover of Prince‘s ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ and a section of Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ which segues in from his own ‘Butterfly’. Many of the songs are slightly abridged, presumably to allow more to be played.
“If you are getting impatient for the hits… remember how few of them there actually were,” announces Cole rather modestly in the midst of a very strong first half that includes the Number-One-in-a-parallel-universe groove of ‘My Bag’ (lead single from third and final Commotions album Mainstream) and the irrepressible ‘Jennifer She Said’ (same album) which Cole perhaps surprisingly declares as the most challenging song to play in the whole show.
A short break sees Cole return with son William on extra guitar duties, his rather shy performance on Mainstream‘s title track followed by some sterling work playing the lead parts on some of his dad’s most loved songs; a gorgeous ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ and a wonderful version of the first ‘solo’ single ‘No Blue Skies’ among the many highlights.
“It took me a long time to find a young man who looks just like I did at 24… If I had been in Echo and the Bunnymen. And how I wanted to be in Echo and the Bunnymen,” announces Cole by way of introduction, referring to his son’s McCulloch-style hair. It is a joy to see the two of them combining so effectively, and Cole Senior displays a touching pride in his boy.
By the end of the night, nine of the ten Rattlesnakes songs have had an airing, (actually Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ lowest-charting but most popular album), with only ‘Down On Mission Street’ omitted. Easy Pieces big hits ‘Brand New Friend’ and ‘Lost Weekend’ are present and correct, but that record’s less-celebrated third single ‘Cut Me Down’ is revealed as an absolute masterpiece and receives a rapturous reception from the attentive crowd.
The crowd are sent on their way with a rousing ‘Forest Fire’, a song that sounds immense even backed by just two acoustic guitars and vocals. Lloyd Cole has been on top of his game tonight, the voice perfectly intact and armed with an arsenal of truly beloved songs that clearly still have a special place in the hearts of those present.
Photo Credit: Kyleigh Pitcher