REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

It’s been a whopping 33 years (1986) since Lloyd Cole first set foot on Australian soil with his band the Commotions. Since going solo, it has always been a matter of economies of scale. Lloyd preferring the ‘less is more’ approach – just a few acoustic guitars, a handy side table with a few bottles of water, a music stand and attitude.

When visiting Melbourne over the years, and not out appreciating the finer points of one of our gorgeous golf courses, he has plugged away studiously in the evenings, playing all manner of small venues – Brunswick, Thornbury, Richmond, Oakleigh, Bentleigh – seemingly simultaneously amazed and exceedingly grateful, that his fanbase not only remember his work, but actively seek him out for an intimate evening of entertainment.

This humility and diligence has certainly paid off – fans come along not really knowing what to expect – and leave, having been completely side-swiped by Cole’s dry wit, self deprecating delivery and masterfully intimate performance. This approach of under promising and over delivering is certainly a refreshing change.

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

The years of hard work, the slow and steady build, and an excellent new album in his back pocket have all contributed to what we see tonight – a close to sold out Hamer Hall… a huge counterpoint to previous tiny venues he’s played – like The Thornbury Theatre, The Caravan Club, The Flying Saucer Club.

For those who haven’t been keeping tabs, Lloyd’s never been one to rest on his laurels and has been rather busy since his last visit down under – writing and producing one of his strongest albums to date. ‘Guesswork’ – a 8 track sojourn into wistful electronica that has been greeted with praise across the board by fans and critics alike. Why the interest all of a sudden? Well, it’s a cracker of an album for a multitude of reasons – not the least of which is it marks a reunion of sorts with his old Commotions compadres, Blair Cowan and Neil Clark.

A few years ago in the UK, there was a brief Commotions reunion but other than that, the rest of the world have just had to imagine the richness Neil Clark’s second guitar might bring to a performance.

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

After tonight we needn’t wonder any more.

Ever Mr Punctual, Lloyd wanders on stage at 8.30 sharp and launches into ‘Past Imperfect’, a more recent tune which sets the tone perfectly for the journey he is about to take us on, with one foot planted firmly in the future while the other fondly retreads past sweetness.

“Excuse me, could I use your pen?
I have mislaid my own
Somewhere out here in space and time
Between this place and home
Maybe she lies on the subway platform
Forsaken and forlorn
All of this and more and that’s not all
I can’t recall

What was on my mind in Amsterdam
In 1984?
And what did I want from the pouring rain
Was it phonographic score?
And why was my head in the unmade bed
With a girl who’s name I lost?
I can’t unwrite the tune
Or discount the cost
I can’t recall”

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

Two songs in and incredibly, there is still one single vacant seat in the front row…seems someone’s been held up in traffic… eventually out of the shadows a visibly relieved punter slinks into it. Lloyd spots him and remarks… “Just in time!”

Noting the silent audience, he turns his attention to them… “Let’s get one thing clear this evening – you’re not getting any younger either.”

A few wistful strums and it’s straight into his 1983 classic ‘Rattlesnakes’…
– ‘just in time’ indeed.

After ‘Music In A Foreign Language’, Lloyd lays down some ground rules for the evening.

“To contradict the lyric in that song, if you’d like to sing along tonight, it’s okay… I know I look stern."

(To the latecomers) “Good evening… if you’re just arriving at the show tonight, welcome… You’ve only missed ‘Rattlesnakes’… If you don’t yet follow me on Twitter, now might be a good time to make a mental note… I usually post what time I’m on stage… ‘Rattlesnakes’ is ALWAYS song three. (Laughter) I know there is a little perverse cruelty in that, but it’s also generosity to the rest of you. (applause)

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

So, if you feel like singing along… it’s okay. However, should you feel inclined to be the drummer for tonight’s show, with some clapping along during songs… first of all, why would you do that in Hamer Hall? …It’s not a rock club… secondly it’s ALWAYS a nightmare …Imagine you’re a statistician or a bank clerk… Your job is to work with numbers… You’re at work one day and someone comes up behind you and says “1009!…71!… 36!… 8!…” That’s what it feels like… and if you want to feel a little better about it there’s physics involved. It takes a little bit of time for the sound to get from me to you… and then a little bit again to get back to me… So even if you’re awesome – IT’S STILL SHIT. (laughter) …Enjoy yourselves, control yourselves…”

Duly noted. The audience remain reverently quiet during the first set, apart from the odd ‘Love you Lloyd‘… hanging on every lyric and little snippet of dry repartee. It’s actually the ultimate compliment to the artist.

Lloyd follows up a jaunty ‘My Bag’ with the first of two brand new ‘Guesswork’ tracks… The first is ‘The Afterlife’ which translates beautifully from its original synth format to acoustic guitar.

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

“That was Track One, Side Two, of my relatively new album ‘Guesswork’ (appreciative applause) Thank you… If you haven’t heard it, …it’s fantastic. I am – you would’ve gathered by now – your opening act for tonight. After a short intermission – in a little while – I will return with an old friend and we will ‘headline’.

After headlining, barring injuries, breakdowns, what-have-you, I will wander out to the foyer where ‘Guesswork’ is for sale – at a very competitive price (especially after Australian import duties) and, I will sign ‘anything’. I had thought – here in 2019 – we had reached that point, where I no longer needed to say I will sign anything ‘inanimate’… but there was a gentleman in Kilmonth…”

The second track from Guesswork played tonight is the uncharacteristically sunny ‘Moments and Whatnot’ – yet another standout track. Great that Lloyd is not playing it safe. It seems the decision to road test this new material is already paying dividends as toes unconsciously tap along nearby.

After ‘Baby’, Lloyd recalls a situation where a ‘self appointed expert’ on his music actually ruined a song for him…

“Thank you. You all know me pretty well now I think… we’ve been together for a long time. My songs are your songs really – however you choose to enjoy them… to understand them. And my opinions are not necessarily correct. Whoever you are, whatever your understanding might be… with perhaps just this single exception… A few years ago a gentleman illuminated me to, let’s say an ‘alternate’, potentially controversial, understanding of one of the middle lines of the last song… the line being ‘aint your little man growing…’ (laughter) Now, I still sing this song for you because I think it’s one you might enjoy… but for me it is ruined. It is debased… and this illuminated gentlemen, is dead to me.“

Lloyd closes out his solo ‘support slot’ with another two classics, ‘Vin Ordinaire’ and ‘Late Night, Early Town’

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

After a brief 15 minute intermission and leg stretch, Lloyd and his erstwhile lead guitarist from the Commotions, Neil Clark return to the spotlight to – as Lloyd so aptly put it earlier – ‘Headline’…

Kicking off proceedings with an elegantly picked ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ it’s immediately apparent just what a huge and positive shift in dynamics this pairing constitutes. Neil never overplays his parts but suddenly the songs have a propulsive ‘attitude’… it’s quite a revelation… ‘Woman’s Studies’ veritably chugs along with more dimension than I’ve ever heard it live before…

The other aspect of having someone there on lead guitar – to fill in all the nuances – is it frees up Lloyd to really get into the rhythm and vocal delivery of each song… which by now is much more relaxed.

Neil is a quiet achiever and doesn’t seem to react much to Lloyd’s repartee (perhaps because he’s heard most of it before) but drops his guard momentarily and gives Lloyd a smirk during ‘Woman’s Studies’… it’s all beginning to gel and there just isn’t a better feeling to be had.

Next up is the duo’s first take on a Guesswork track… It’s the melancholic ‘The Over Under’ and the sparse guitar interplay is an absolute joy.

The song’s lyrics are the perfect metaphor for this perfect pairing:

“Your guess, I guess
Is as good as mine
We could pool together
And be half right all of the time
My guess, I guess
It’s all, it’s all the same to me
I’ll just put this out there
If you might care to tag along
Now that I’m no longer chasing certainty
What’s the over, what’s the over under?”

With just the slightest change in rhythm, the pair have effortlessly segued into ‘Sentimental Fool’…

“The more I learn the less I know
Could you make mine straight Absolut?
The more I fail the less I try
Ask not of me the reason why
Oh, my Sentimental Fool
Have I got a tale for you”

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

Then, just when you begin to think it can’t get any more heavenly, they slide into ‘Why I Love Country Music’… there is a palpable intake of breath as the crowd recognise the chords, with barely a split second to rest, Lloyd is straight into ‘Like A Broken Record’. Gorgeous mini romantic Leonard Cohenisms coming flying thick and fast tonight, one after the other… this is a masterclass in emotive encapsulation.

For the very first time in about a dozen solo performances I’ve caught of Lloyd’s, when he calls out ‘Guitar Solo!‘ in ‘Broken Record’ – this time, there actually is one!

The loudest applause of the evening so far comes as the pair play ‘Weeping Wine’… the crowd are really enjoying the song selection… and it ain’t all hits by any stretch of the imagination. Showing his true golfing colours, Lloyd dedicates ‘Weeping Wine’ to Tiger Woods in commiseration after Patrick Reed was branded a cheat in the Golf.

“I live in America so I’m not completely anti-American. I’m just against any team that has Patrick Reed in it.”

Asking for a little crowd participation for ‘Jennifer She Said’, the crowd are up for a singalong. Neil’s gentle guitar lines really fill out the melody beautifully.

‘2CV’ taken from Rattlesnakes paves the way for one of Lloyd’s most poignant compositions of recent times… ‘Period Piece’ is a song loosely about the Berlin Wall.

“Oh Hansa, my lover
Where will your gaze fall now?
Combat Groups of the Working Classes
Wherefore will you crowd?
Western hedonists mourn my passing daily
These were the best of times

Inanimate I know
I am and I will remain
Cinderblock souvenirs, sold with candy cane
Infiltrating the cabinets of the Western Union
With a promise of better times”

Three more unsung Cole classics follow in the form of ‘Woman In A Bar’, ‘Ice Cream Girl’ and ‘Myrtle & Rose’ before the pair tackle the two singles from ‘Guesswork’.

‘Night Sweats’ with its fantastic lyric:

“So I’m a complicated motherfucker, you knew that
Before you added to the complication
Hacked my meditation
Yours ’til the end of time”

works its magic and certainly gets everyone’s attention. Lloyd sings it with a world weariness and it instantly becomes the performance of the night so far.

Lloyd invites us to sing the counter melody of ‘Violins‘ but as it’s so new, it might just be a bridge too far tonight.

The pair finish up the main set with Mainstream’s ‘Hey Rusty’ which Lloyd always finishes with a nod to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ followed by Rattlesnakes ‘Perfect Skin’ and Easy Pieces ‘Lost Weekend’ both of which receives the loudest roar of the evening.

They both wave and bid us ‘thanks and goodnight’ but we’re not fooled, no-one is moving an inch.

Sensing there just has to be more to come, we sit tight and bellow for the the pair to re-emerge, which they eventually do, rewarding us with ‘No Blue Skies’ (on which Neil Clark plays some of the most menacing backing lines ever) and an emotionally wrung-out version of ‘Forest Fire’.

As far as Lloyd Cole shows go, they’ve all been amazing over the years, but this time he’s got the balance just right. This has been far and away the best to date.

News of just how fantastic these shows have been is spreading quickly on the socials and the ‘Rattlesnakes to Guesswork’ shows are now starting to sell out on the Australian leg. If you get a chance to catch this dynamic duo this time around, be smart, be quick and grab it with both hands...or be ready to be heartbroken.

REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall

Photography by Carbie Warbie

For Carbie's complete photo gallery of Lloyd Cole at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre, Melbourne (11th Dec 2019), please click the following link, on our sister music website on GigBill.


REVIEW: Lloyd Cole - Hamer Hall
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