“How would you rate yourself as a Lloyd Cole fan out of 10?” asks the stranger sitting down next to me at the Union Chapel. It’s a question which I take some time to ponder. My pensiveness is taken as a sign of my lack of enthusiasm, and before I can respond, she says “I’ll put you down as a 3“. I tell her I think I’m more of a “7.5“. My neighbour confidently asserts that she’s a “10“. After I’ve told her that I’ve seen Cole with the Commotions a couple of times in the eighties and at least five times solo, she re-evaluates, “I think you’re more of a 10. I’ve only seen him twice so I feel more like a 3 now!”
Before we can conclude our Lloyd Cole fan rating debate, the man himself, clad all in white, arrives on stage with an acoustic guitar for a sparkling solo rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back‘. It’s the beginning of two excellent, well balanced, career spanning sets. The first one’s more acoustic leaning, with the second one being slightly louder. Cole’s soon joined on stage by ex-Commotions Neil Clark on guitar and keyboard player Blair Cowan. They’re complemented by the wonderful Signy Jacobsdottir on drums and percussion.
‘On Pain‘ from Cole’s recent, rather good synth pop album of the same name is revisited as a jangly guitar song. ‘Why I Love Country Music‘ features some excellent brush work from Jacobsdottir. Cole takes to a keyboard to play ‘Headlights‘, a brief piece of electronica which segues into ‘No More Love Songs‘; both songs have, Cole wryly tell us, “exactly the same chords“.
‘2CV‘ again showcases Jacobsdottir’s versatility as she dispenses with sticks, playing the drum kit with her hands. ‘Undress‘ is a “New York song” and Cole tells us that any references to his nakedness in it are to what he looked like in his birthday suit in 1989 rather than 2023. The first set ends with sublime renditions of ‘Rattlesnakes‘ and ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken‘.
After a 20 minute break the band are back. Surrounded by what he described as “three expert musicians“, it means that in the second half Cole primarily plays bass. For those in the audience who haven’t listened to Cole’s last two records he helpfully tells us that “the new songs tend to be a little bit electronic and longer than you think“. ‘Violins‘ from Cole’s 2019 album ‘Guesswork‘ is one of these; however, played live it benefits from a more organic sound.
‘Wolves‘, which is in many ways the centrepiece of Cole’s new album, offers a bleak look at modern humanity. He urges us to sing along with it next time he’s on tour. We’re swiftly taken back in time with ‘Perfect Blue‘, before it’s back to the present day with new song ‘The Idiot‘. It’s Cole’s touching ode to Iggy Pop’s and David Bowie’s stay in the Berlin. The second set ends with ‘Brand New Friend‘ and ‘Forest Fire‘.
The band come back for a two song encore. It commences with ‘The Young Idealists‘, which Cole dedicates to the volunteers of the same name who help him run the merchandise tables at his gigs. We’re left with a fine version of ‘Mainstream‘ which brings a great and eclectic 29 song set to a close.
Although I may only be a 7.5 out of 10 fan, this was a 10 out of 10 performance from Cole and his fantastic band in which the new songs blended in perfectly with ones which are almost 40 years old. In a cost of living crisis it’s a financial gamble to take a band of this calibre out on the road. Three sold out nights at the Union Chapel will hopefully encourage Cole to do this again in the near future.