On this tour Lloyd Cole is only performing his classic songbook covering a period from 1983 – 1996 which comprises of hits from albums Rattlesnakes, Easy Pieces, Mainstream, Lloyd Cole and Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe. Union Chapel is an intimate and relaxed setting perfect for an acoustic performance, with soft stage lights and the balcony lined with candles. The audience are seated together in the church pews drinking tea and coffee (the venue still being a functioning church, no alcohol is allowed in the chapel area) it seems to add to the warmth and closeness of the setting.
Lloyd Cole arrives on stage with little fanfare, picking up his guitar and checking the tuning only briefly. Opening numbers Patience and Perfect Blue are smoother than the recordings with his more developed voice, and an almost jazz style phrasing. His acoustic take on Rattlesnakes is so sparsely orchestrated with only a soft strum behind the vocal, he feels more like a troubadour in that moment. The audience follows the story in the song, even if they could sing it forward and backwards, there is a newness to it that is delightful. Cole’s early career, particularly with The Commotions, was marked out by his youthful angst and mature writing talent. Now it feels as if so much of that tender awkwardness has been burned away and these songs take on the serenity of a fond memory.
Speaking between songs he teases the audience, “It’s only old songs tonight.” The audience applauds. With a look of mock chagrin, he reminds everyone, “Yeah, we’re not getting any younger.” Songs, Tracy and Love Ruins Everything are well paired as a solemn mediation on grief and the inevitable shortness of intense love. Crossroads and Pretty Gone bring flashes of the younger ‘uncomfortable’ Lloyd Cole, with his twitchy, on edge style. In keeping with the flow of the set list, Cole plays My Bag, unexpectedly this has been reworked for his acoustic performance and has an almost jogging, folksy rhythm over which Cole’s voice trips along note and word perfect.
As if reminding the audience of his earlier sentiment, his puts on his glasses to tune his guitar. He also jokes about his one vanity being the little ‘wings’ wearing his glasses gives his hair, his thick hair being the feature retained from his youth. Looking around at the crowd, unsurprisingly this is an older crowd comprised mostly of late middle aged artistic looking types, there is a kind interplay between audience and performer acknowledging this familiarity with age and nostalgia.
It does also raise some questions, Cole’s best known songs are often punctuated with retro aesthetics, Americana and are thematically locked into stories of fleeting love affairs and the turbulent uncertainty of youth, so why are there so few modern covers of Lloyd Cole songs? Why aren’t these songs being carried forward by other artists? Sitting here listening to the breathy depth of Cole’s voice on songs like Innocent Child, Butterfly and the dark and sexy lyrics of Downtown it occurs, it may be that no one is confident to improve upon them, or maybe he is not done with these songs himself.
Wrapping up with his first set with Jennifer She Said he encourages audience participation, it is clear that the crowd have been dying to song along all night but don’t have the confidence to match Cole’s voice. He also starts the song with a disclaimer that it may be inappropriate to sing certain songs, with certain themes after a certain age, but for a moment we are no longer ‘of a certain age’, rather, we are all transported back to being the people we were in 1985.
In the second half, Lloyd Cole is accompanied by his 23-year-old son, William also on guitar. They open, rather fittingly, with Don’t Look Back. With lyrics, “When you’re young, Life seems never ending, When you’re young.” A perfect echo of advice from father to son as they stand in juxtaposition, the older and younger Coles, as if versions of the same person captured in polar life phases. With William does not crack a smile, looking off to the middle distance, no mic set up for him to sing. Lloyd jokes about the time it took him to “find a guitarist who looks just like I did in my twenties, who wants to travel the world playing music and carrying my things at the airport.”
William looks on as if he’s heard this joke more than once. So perfect is his it to have William on stage as they play Mr Malcontent, as Cole Sr. has already proven himself to be quite witty and light hearted, believing his image of an angry man to be a misconception. It’s not until they play Like Lovers Do that, as Cole Jr. picks out a complex fill and struggles for just a beat that they glance over at each other sharing a moment of near invisible communication with half smiles of acknowledgement and encouragement. The hits roll on with Knock Me Down, Charlotte Street and Perfect Skin. Lloyd tilting his head slightly listening for William is endearing to watch. William plays along to 2Cv without a flicker of a facial expression.
The muses of Cole’s songs are a plethora of trans-Atlantic, intellectual fantasy women who resemble silver screen movie stars and survive on cigarettes, sexual trysts and adoration. Does it ever make Cole Jr. uncomfortable to recount his father’s real or imaged failed love affairs and conquests from the past? Are any of those songs about his mother? As far-fetched as many of these women seem, there is an analytical quality to his song writing, a neurotic tick, in the style of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.
Cole Sr. reminisces of the next song, “I wrote this when I invented post-feminism” the audience fall about but Cole Jr. remains the true foil playing the music but not singing the lyrics to Undressed. Beautifully soulful versions of No Blue Skies, No More Love Songs and Rusty follow. A paired down version of Brand New Friend allows for the insertion of a chorus from Bowie’s Sorrow. The obligatory encore left a reservation for Lost Weekend and a soothing rendition of Forest Fire to send us all home from the autumn of our lives to the warmth of the autumn night.
Review by Sarah Sievers, photographs by Belle Piec
Lloyd Cole continues his classic songbook tour through October and beyond: –
Please be aware many dates are currently SOLD OUT.
11th Oct Epstein Theatre, Manchester, UK
12th Oct Glee Club, Birmingham, UK
14th Oct Harpenden Public Halls, Harpenden, UK
16th Oct Thelka, Bristol, UK
17th Oct The Old Market, Brighton, UK
18th Oct Heist-op-den-Berg, Belgium
20th Oct CC de Steenoven, Herzele, Belgium
21st Oct CC DeSteiger, Menen, Belgium
22nd Oct CC Muze, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
24th Oct Technikum, Munich, Germany
25th Oct Stadgarten, Cologne, Germany
27th Oct Heimathafen, Berlin, Germany
30th Oct The Glee Club, Nottingham, UK
31st Oct The Glee Club, Cardiff, Wales
For further dates please see www.lloydcole.com/live