Saturday, 1 February 2014

902 LLOYD COLE AND THE LEOPARDS, Mike Marlin, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 31 January 2014

Tonight marked a couple of welcome returns; first, a return to gigging with old friends Ben and Peej, the first in a while with both of these chaps; and second, a return to my gig itinerary – after a very lengthy absence – of Mr. Lloyd Cole, a “live” staple in the mid 80’s with his excellent band The Commotions. Cole, a highly literate and well-read individual with an understated wry, laconic and laid-back delivery over his band’s blend of often slow-burn Lou Reed street cool and Country-tinged Byrds-ian jangle, injected a dose of style and bookish idiosyncrasy into the 80’s musical landscape, before the Commotions ran their course and my musical tastes drifted away from his more US radio rock oriented early solo material. Nevertheless, Ben’s enthusiasm for this one, plus news that he was reprising some of that Commotions stuff along with better recent solo work, persuaded me along, so me and Peej gathered up at Bens, before a rainy yet entertaining drive up the Smoke.

We therefore hit the half-full venue at 8-ish, just as support Mike Marlin took the stage. A singer-songwriter of evident similar vintage to the headliner, Marlin (who with glasses, beard and sensible jacket reminded me of my old history teacher Mr. Leach!) had a flat, unassuming stage presence and a line in dark, morose little numbers heavily recalling The National. Seen worse openers, but seen a lot more original ones too…

The place filled up considerably afterwards, but we kept a watching brief near the front, stage left, for Lloyd’s prompt entrance at 9. T’was the old boy’s 53rd birthday today, prompting a bubbling chorus of “happy birthday” from the audience, before he eased his 6-piece band into the opening “Rattlesnakes”. Despite this rendition sounding a little rushed and lacking in that excellent virtuoso guitar riffery from the Commotions Neil Clark, it was nonetheless fine to just hear this, the title track from that splendid Commotions debut album. “So you came for a nice mellow night, yeah?” Cole enquired before a very fine Countrified “Weeping Wine”, followed by a deliciously darker, almost menacing “Sweetheart”.

“This ones’ only 28 years old,” Cole announced by way of introduction to the deliciously yearning “Perfect Blue”, before a subsequent, languid “Another Lover”. Thus far, Lloyd’s solo stuff was at least holding its’ own with the Commotions’ more storied material, something I’d not exactly expected. “The disappointing years are gone – so much promise, then so much disappointment,” Cole remarked (references to “wilderness years” of solo recordings being a recurring theme in his between-song banter) before the classic “Perfect Skin”, brilliantly rendered with an understated opening giving way to a startlingly strident middle eight, eliciting the best response of the night. Lloyd then mined his more recent seam of songs once more, it again being a pleasant surprise how good they were, particularly those culled from last year’s “Standards” album, before the jaunty, fairgroundesque “Lost Weekend” jumped back to Commotions days. “This is when I normally talk about babysitters – don’t worry, we’re almost finished… I’ve been almost finished for years!” Cole self-deprecatingly announced before a fine “No Blue Skies” (the line, “baby, you’re too well read; baby, you’re too well spoken” almost serving as a metaphor for Cole’s career!) led into a singalong “Jennifer She Said” to close a surprisingly fine, carefully delivered set. Low key, sure, but this material demands careful handling, and tonight it was treated just right.

After first encore, his mid-90’s hit “Like Lovers Do”, the auditorium was bathed in red light for the inevitable “Forest Fire”. This, still the high watermark in Cole’s canon, was the best thing on the menu tonight, this drum-driven number building to a soaring crescendo which Lloyd and the band stretched, before abruptly, yet fittingly, bringing it – and the night – to a close. Not quite though, as I grabbed a set-list and got this, plus a hastily purchased copy of the new album, signed by the man himself, putting in an appearance on the merch stand. Shook his hand and had a quick word about those 80’s Marquee days too. A nice end to a splendid retro evening, in good company – both offstage and on!

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