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Saturday, 14 January 2017 |
at Hamer Hall
At the ripe young age of fifty five, Lloyd Cole is the epitome of the modern day travelling balladeer. He’s certainly no stranger to our shores – choosing to visit Australia every couple of years – attracted as much by our beguiling golf courses, as the opportunity to perform for an ever appreciative audience.
With the exception of a tour to Australia very early on with his 80's band The Commotions, every successive Lloyd Cole tour has been in support of his solo offerings. A creature of habit, he’ll normally choose to seek out his audience, playing multiple shows in outlying areas and these are wonderfully sparse, stripped back intimate affairs – offering golden opportunities for fans to connect after the show for a convivial chat.
Tonight he’s asking something a little different from his fans. His Facebook page this week read, “Last time I was in Melbourne, I came and played your suburb, this time I’m asking you to come into the CBD”...which of course we are all very happy to do. Tonight the Young Idealists* have been summoned to the much larger Hamer Hall – for a fully retrospective flick through his 1983 – 1996 songbook. I’m really pleased when I learn he’s decided to extend the invitation to his son, who is also along for the ride. Will Cole is a former member of Brooklyn power pop trio, EZTV.
* The ‘Young Idealists’ are Lloyd's loyal fan base, who have collectives set up in each major touring destination around the world. When a tour is announced they swing into action, and help publicise his shows through social media, organising possible venues, posting gig flyers, and selling merchandise (in exchange for the opportunity to dine out and spend time with Lloyd when he visits).
As we take our seats in a dimly lit Hamer Hall, Will is already on stage making all the last minute checks for his dad. Four beautiful acoustics line the stage in tuned readiness. Having been preoccupied with UK, Europe and the Americas of late, it’s now been quite a few years since Lloyd’s last visit and the promise of a couple of hours in the presence of such a great storyteller has me wondering what he might choose to start with.
He takes the stage alone to fervent applause and stands at the microphone, looking towards the heavens, strumming softly to himself as he clears his mind for the set ahead.
“Early in the morning, just by the break of day… that’s when my patience went away.”
It’s "Patience" from the 1983 debut Rattlesnakes – a perfect choice to kick off proceedings. As he strums the unmistakable intro to the similarly themed “Perfect Blue” and the warm melancholy begins to rush over me, I realise that a lot of thought has been given to tonights setlist – with songs bracketed by theme, seems we are in for a special show indeed.
“Should you awake dear from your beauty sleep
To find your room swimming in blue and green...”
It’s almost like being at communion. The crowd tonight is respectfully silent between songs and at applause’s end not a single word is uttered. Lloyd hesitates momentarily at the lack of interaction, looks out into the crowd and with his trademark steely gaze utters, “You’re not getting any younger either…” It’s a great icebreaker and at once the audience is his.
Lloyd then takes the opportunity to trot out a sparse two minute rendition of his classic "Rattlesnakes”. It is lovely, but for some of us, its short duration is far from what such a timeless song deserves. I reason it’s either a decision taken because he’s dead sick of playing it every night or perhaps because he has such a bevy of songs to get through in such a confined space of time?
What follows next is the first of tonight’s homages - this time it’s to Prince – with a cover of The Purple One’s "Sometimes It Snows In April".
As the song closes, Lloyd spots a couple of latecomers trying to find their seats in the darkness and playfully chides them: “Good evening… you’ve only missed ‘Rattlesnakes’.”
“Welcome to our little Retrospective evening… tonight we have only songs from 1983 to 1996… For the last couple of years I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy looking backwards – like we said we would never do… so if I was ever going to be an ‘Oldies’ singer’ then tonight’s the night!... this one’s from 1984… plus 10”.
From 1995's Love Story it’s a beautifully sumptuous rendition of "I Didn’t Know That You Cared". The warmth of the acoustic is revelatory and for a moment every reason that I have adored this man and his muse comes flooding back.
Maturity has blessed Cole with a self deprecatory wit…
“Thank you…remember those photographs of me in the 80’s and 90’s? I was trying to look ‘neutral’... I was trying to look neither happy nor sad… and by the time I realised that when I tried to look ‘neutral’ I actually looked quite angry – it was too late.’ (Laughs)
The topical "Love Ruins Everything" is next up.
“Hey, hey, hey
Look at me now
My trademark frown has grown
Into the strangest easy smile”.
“So by now you'll have gathered that I am your opening act tonight... and after a little while there will be an intermission and I will return with a special guest. By the end of the evening, hopefully we will have covered most of the ground that you would have hoped we would have covered… from 1983 to 1996. If you’re getting a little impatient, remember that the hits – there’s only about five of them – so maybe every now and again we could delve a little deeper and see if we can find something interesting. This is from the last recording session we did as the Commotions. We were a four piece for about a month.”
Lloyd then launches into cracker of a song with an urgent strum called "Lonely Mile".
“I’m standing at the crossroads
I’m waiting for a sign
Anyway the wind blows
Yes sir, I’ll take as mine”.
Lloyd then rips through a melancholy "Pay For It" before threading it with another similarly themed tune, "Pretty Gone". It’s outro segues into a few bars of the fab four’s "Norwegian Wood" signalling clearly to the audience that Lloyd’s influences are still worn openly on his melancholy sleeves.
A superbly muscular rendition of 1987’s "My Bag" from the last Commotions album in 1987 is next up and straight away the mood of the place lifts. How good it is to hear Lloyd revisiting these fantastic songs!
“So anyway... I stopped wearing contact lenses… and every now and again I’m going to need to tune the guitar – possibly a little awkward, but it does add what we refer to in show business as the ’creation of tension’… and here’s the thing: put the glasses on, tune, take the glasses off, sometimes I get these ‘wings’ and you can see that my hair is all I have left – it’s not the same colour, but it’s all there, it’s still relatively healthy… so I don’t really want the wings… it makes me look like Michael Heseltine… and so if you see the ‘wings’ just give me a wave or shout ‘wings’ and I’ll do this (strokes hair behind his ears) and we’ll be fine… (laughs).
'Butterfly' is next which segues effortlessly into a couplet or two of Leonard Cohen’s 'Famous Blue Raincoat'. ”Thanks for the songs Mr Cohen”, Lloyd quips.
“So You’d Like to Save the World” and a gleeful singalong to “Jennifer She Said” round out the first set. After our best vocal effort, Lloyd graces us with some feedback: “Well, clearly you’re not Welsh, but that’s alright!”
For the second set, Will appears with his dad and as soon as I recognise the opening chords of 1990’s "Don’t Look Back" I can tell it’s going to be a much fuller sound from here on in. With Will filling in all the lead nuances, suddenly Lloyds compositions have moved from artistic pastiches to the fully formed masterpieces we have come to know and love. Its lyrics are very telling, especially with his young son standing loyally at his side:
“I used to wake up early
I used to try to believe
But life seems never ending
When you’re young”.
At the songs end Lloyd takes a moment to reflect on the situation. ”You can imagine how long it took me to find a young man who looks just like I do... just like I would've looked if I’d been in ‘Echo & the Bunnymen’".
"Mr Malcontent" with it’s two part interplay is beauty personified and this continues as the duo launch into "Like Lovers Do". Will, like probably every other young guy his age, is extremely self aware and spends the majority of his time staring at the ceiling or stage left, only glancing at Lloyd occasionally for cues. He certainly has the chops on the acoustic and his solo on this track is outstanding. It must be extremely gratifying and possibly a bit scary to have your son want to follow in your footsteps. Lloyd must be very proud.
As Will rolls out the delicate finger picked intro to "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken" his playing elicits plenty of whoos and applause – and fair enough too. In previous tours even Lloyd himself has struggled with its intricacies. A few game audience members jump up and start dancing at the foot of the stage.
"Cut Me Down" is equally sublime too. Probably one of my personal favourites and the two cruise through it effortlessly. I’m so pleased I got to see this performance.
From here on in, it’s Rattlesnakes heaven…just classic after classic.
"Perfect Skin" is bookended with "Charlotte Street" and the plaintive "2cv". The tunes rattle along happily until Will kicks them up another level altogether with a bevy of beautifully realised finger-picked solos. It's been a masterstroke to include him on this tour and bodes well for further father and son sonic explorations.
Someone yells out for "Forest Fire"…
“Patience”, Lloyd placates.
“So, did you know that the Queen likes a bit of George Formby…? This is really true… they did this Desert Island Discs BBC thing recently and although she didn’t actually appear on the show, a confidante brought out a list of the things she likes… and she said she especially likes that most George Formby songs seem to be about his cock... (hysterical laughter) so I have a song of mine now from 1990 which I’d like to do George Formby style…”
“The coolest thing I ever saw
You were sitting there smoking my cigarettes
You were naked on the bare stone floor
You looked at me to say don’t guess
I was only watching, yes I love you more undressed”.
Lloyd and Will spend a few moments tuning up before continuing and true to form, just as Lloyd goes to put his glasses away, some wisecrack from the audience hollers “…WINGS…” to his amusement.
The pigeon pair of "No Blue Skies" and "No More Love Songs" are up next with Lloyd playing the baseline and Will fluttering over the top with a sensitive lead.
Lloyd takes a moment to reflect on some past history.
‘So I made an album that was going to come out in 1996/97 and delivered it and was happy with it and the publisher was happy with it and then the A&R man got fired and the person who took over wasn’t so happy with it....and it never came out. The songs on the record ended up on a few different records called The Negatives or Etc but the actual album never came out. This box set coming out in March has finally got this album as I wanted it to be. I know I was thinking of calling it The Middle Ages because obviously 35 years old was really old or I was maybe going to call it Smile If You Want To which I think is possibly a better title. So this is tonight’s youngest song. This is only 20 years old!”
As Lloyd introduces the next song, which transpires to be 'Hey Rusty' he ponders the change in outlook brought on by maturity:
“When I was 26 years old, I think I wrote my first song about approaching middle age… because obviously at 26 I knew absolutely everything there was to be known... anyway, here I am singing these songs now at 55 and, more often than not, I find myself sympathising more with the characters in the songs than the know-it-all 26 year old…”
Taken from the album Mainstream the song has always been a personal favourite and reminds me of a typical Springsteen epic with its lyrics of 'Remember...
it's like yesterday, stealing cigarettes, and laughing as they chased us down the boulevards'. Sure enough, almost as if he read my thoughts, Lloyd segues the end of the song into a little hummed Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run". Another nod to a musical hero.
Last song of the second set now and it’s a classic…
“Walking in the pouring rain
Walking with Jesus and Jane
Jane was in her turtleneck
I was much happier then”.
"Brand New Friend" trundles along, all fat baseline with Will’s soft flourishes and counterpoint screaming string slides. Just magic. As the tune reaches it’s conclusion, Lloyd changes one note in the chugging melody and suddenly he’s paying homage to David Bowie, with a heartfelt version of "Heroes”
The crowd reacts with more hollers… then just as we think he’s about to finish up he adds one more deft brushstroke with a tribute to The Go-Betweens "Rock and Roll Friend": “Do something about me, do something about me, do something about me – and do it soon my friend”.
After the smallest of breaks the duo return for one final salvo.
"Lost Weekend" is greeted warmly and then with only one song to go, it’s the one everyone has been shouting for. The plaintive intro to "Forest Fire" rings out through Hamer Hall and it’s blissful. Will cleverly introduces a Spanish counterpoint to the refrain and it just floats along. The crowd finally step up and sing “If we get caught in this wind” and Lloyd smiles in recognition."Thank you all... get home safe... Goodnight!" All too soon the magic is over and the boys leave us to reflect on what has been an amazing night.
Once again Lloyd has unequivocally proved what a great storyteller he was between 1983-1996 and why he continues to be so adored and respected by his fan base and peers. It is obvious his songbook from this era includes an embarrassment of riches – all powerful observations on the human condition. Tonight’s material worked just as successfully as stripped back sketches of melody or as fully embellished father and son duets. A truly unmissable show. Come back soon guys.
Lloyd Cole’s new Solo Boxset which comes out in March
‘Lloyd Cole in New York’
can be ordered from his website:
Photo credit: Harry Williams
Lloyd Cole’s Setlst:
2. Perfect Blue
4. Sometimes it Snows in April (Prince cover)
6. I Didn’t Know That You Cared
7. Love Ruins Everything
8. Lonely Mile
9. Pay For It
10. Pretty Gone
11. My Bag
13. Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen cover)
14. So You’d Like to Save the World
15. Jennifer She Said
16. Don’t Look Back
17. Mr. Malcontent
18. Like Lovers Do
19. Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?
20. Cut Me Down
21. Charlotte Street
22. Perfect Skin
25. Four Flights Up
26. No Blue Skies
27. No More Love Songs
28. Hey Rusty
29. Brand New Friend
30. Lost Weekend
31. Forest Fire
Lloyd Cole - Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? & Perfect Skin
Source: Live on KEXP via YouTube
You can check out CarbieWarbie's lovely Lloyd Cole photo gallery on our sister music website, GIGBILL.
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