As the lights dimmed on the sellout crowd, a collective breath was taken. The anticipation was palpable. I was one of the many ‘first-timers’; too young to catch Lloyd Cole & The Commotions when they played Festival Hall in the late 80’s and for one reason or another missed his show a few years back at The Zoo, but tonight as Lloyd walked out of the side-of-stage darkness into the spotlight, centre stage, the 20 year wait came to a sweet end.
Cole, by his own admission, was never one for playing live, preferring to write and record music; but in recent years, this has all changed. Tonight he embodies the spirit of a folksinger. Standing on stage with nothing more than his two acoustic guitars, bottles of water and a bowl of ice, Cole draws the crowd into his world from the very first note. Most sets are studded with highlights, but Saturday night’s show was overflowing with them.
The second song of the night was a stunning cover of Leonard Cohen’s, Tower of Song. Cole, like Cohen blessed with the gift of a golden voice. Lloyd then informed us that the night would be broken up into two sets and in the tradition of the support band, he would play songs that no one would know. And then the first notes of Rattlesnakes echoed through the room… It wasn’t the jangly pop number that has featured on the soundtrack to so many lives all around the globe, no, tonight’s version was stripped back, soulful, showcasing the moody lyricism Cole is renowned for. Other tracks from the Commotions era to feature in the set were Perfect Skin, Cut Me Down, Brand New Friend, Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?, 2cv, Lost Weekend and Why I Love Country Music.
Why I Love Country Music came at a time when one young lady, who to quote Hinemoana Baker, was a little over-refreshed, was making it known she wanted to hear 2cv or in her (rather slurred) words, some of the songs with good lyrics. To say the least, several members of the crowd at that stage wanted to lynch her, but Lloyd kept everyone cool, the irony of the lyric, We don’t talk, we don’t fight/ I’m just tired, she’s way past caring, might have been lost on said lady, but the crowd loved it (I should also add that she did not make it back in for the second half of the show, so missed hearing 2cv…).
He played songs from (almost) every album, Blue Skies and Undressed from his first solo album, Butterfly and Pay For It from Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe, Like Lovers Do and Unhappy Song from Love Story, Old Enough To Know Better from etc… Young Idealists and Woman in a Bar from Antidepressant and a swag of songs from his 2003 masterpiece Music in a Foreign Language, including my personal highlight, Late Night, Early Town, as well as a cover of the Kris Kristofferson song, Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends. And as Lloyd pointed out, he is now in peak physical condition, to perform… carrying an extra 5kg to cushion his guitar and give him the necessary self-loathing to perform some of the songs.
It was a setlist to ensure every fan went home smiling, dusting off their old vinyl, or reaching for a CD from the rack. And I have no doubt, many of them will be changed forever. That is the power of an artist at their peak; they take you somewhere and bring you back richer for the experience… Cole has that transformative power, and I am thankful to have felt its pull.
For those who want to check out what I am talking about, here’s a few links to recent live performances: