Lloyd Cole takes to the stage, looking more like a hip geography teacher than the brooding rock star of his youth, and launches straight into ‘Patience’, to the obvious approval of the capacity crowd at the De La Warr Pavillion. Once he’s finished his opening song he stops and takes a long, hard look at the crowd. After surveying the audience for a while he walks up to the microphone and delivers his first words of the evening; “Yeah….you’re not getting any younger either”.
Cole is nearing the end of his UK Tour which started in Corby at the end of February and will conclude, just four nights from now, in the Theatre Royal in Margate. He seems on fine form and enjoying himself on this leg of his ‘Retrospective’ Tour, featuring songs written between 1983 and 1996 – it’s a stark reminder of just how good this man’s back catalogue is and how well the songs stand up when stripped back to guitar and voice. This is especially true of the songs from his albums with The Commotions. Given that these came out in the mid to late 80s, a time when music production seemed to consist of throwing everything, often including the kitchen sink, at a song to see what would stick, it’s refreshing to hear them in this way, stripped of the lush layering and heavy reverb that characterised their band recordings.
‘Rattlesnakes’, probably Cole’s best known song, is third up in the set, showing again the strength of his songs and his confidence that he can perform such a strong number this early in the evening. From this point on, anyone arriving late is treated to a deadpan greeting from the stage and the information that, “you’ve missed ‘Rattlesnakes’”! Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening is just how funny Cole can be. He doesn’t talk a lot between songs but when he does it’s with a dry, laconic wit, often at his own expense. “If any of you have witnessed a flawless performance of my work you’d know it was a tribute act”.
As Cole points out early on he is the opening act for the evening… “and, after the interval, I’ll be headlining”, so we’re treated to around two hours of music from the man and he really doesn’t put a foot wrong all night – well, apart from a couple of wrong chords that lead to the comment about a tribute band! Another surprise is just what a good guitarist he has become over the years. He’s on stage with just his notes, what looks like a cup of tea and a couple of acoustic guitars – his main one being a particularly nice Guild – yet it never sounds samey or limited in any way and his playing, while not particularly flashy, is beautifully judged and perfectly suited to these songs and to his voice. It’s particularly impressive when he delivers ‘Butterfly‘, from his hugely underrated 1991 Album ‘Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe’ which he describes as “The beginning of the beginning of the end” of his mainline career. He also shows he’s an adept interpreter of other’s songs and one of the highlights of the first set is his version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat‘. It’s a song that really suits Cole’s voice these days, it does bear some tonal similarities to Cohen’s, and he delivers it beautifully.
He closes the first set with ‘Jennifer She Said’, from ‘Mainstay’, the final album from The Commotions and opens his second half performance with ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’ from ‘Rattlesnakes’ but, while the music from The Commotions years does figure heavily in both sets, there’s still plenty of room for his solo material including songs from the ‘Lloyd Cole’ album as well as ‘Bad Vibes’ and 1995’s ‘Love Story’. The “newest” number performed in this evening’s retrospective is ‘No More Love Songs’, written in 1996 but not committed to disc until 2003’s ‘Music in a Foreign Language’. All in all it’s a great look back at Cole’s most commercially successful period but you feel there’s still a lot more to come from this intelligent and creative songwriter and the evening leaves you not so much dwelling on the past as interested to hear what new music might be coming from Lloyd Cole in the not too distant future.
Needless to say, he closes out his second set with the big crowd pleasers – back to back performances of ‘Perfect Skin’ and ‘Lost Weekend’ that sound as good now as when we first heard them back in the mid 1980s. The applause is thunderous and the encore is a foregone conclusion. This is his first time at the De La Warr Pavilion and, as Cole himself said, “I don’t know why I haven’t been here before!” It would be nice to see him back here in the UK soon; perhaps to treat us to some of his newer material.
I Didn’t Know That You Cared
Love Ruins Everything
Famous Blue Raincoat
So You’d Like To Save The World
Jennifer She Said
Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?
Like Lovers Do
Cut Me Down
Brand New Friend
Why I Love Country Music
No Blue Skies
Don’t Look Back
No More Love Songs
Myrtle and Rose
Four Flights Up