I first heard Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions at my cousin Denise’s flat back in 1984. She had a great collection of albums by cool artists at the time, which gave me a chance to spotlight a new band or sound with mates, invariably making me seem cooler and ahead of the music scene. It was an album that cut through the carbonic smoke of the 80s synth bands with their shoulder pads, big hair and laser lights. To me it seemed an incredible breath of fresh air at the time of its release and almost familiar.
Add some exceptional songwriting, splendid guitar melodies - reminiscent of tumbleweeds lazily rolling across an old western town - and the silky voice of lead singer Lloyd Cole, with height and a jawline that was sharper than a Ginsu knife. It was a match made in heaven.
I have seen Lloyd a couple of times before and I must say, given the venues I attended, the lack of enthusiasm of some of the audience and the quality of the sound, they had been underwhelming experiences. So it was with a little more excitement I greeted the news that he was bringing his old buddy Neil Clark, lead guitarist of the Commotions and collaborator on many of his solo albums, with him this time.
As the lights crashed to black (there was no subtle dip here), the punters stopped talking and started applauding the man they had come to see. He sauntered across the dimly-lit stage, set with the company of only four monitors, a small table and three guitars. I forgot just how tall he was, somehow pulling off the double denim look. He seemed a lot happier in his skin, while still keeping the mystic aura of a poet from yesteryear.
There was a quick wave, a hint of a smile and acknowledgement to the audience as he picked up his first guitar and got straight into business with Past Imperfect off the 2000 album The Negatives. Straight away you could hear that Lloyd had not lost any of his signatory melancholy vocals, bringing one of my favourite songs, post-Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (LCC), to life and to the delight of the audience.
Quickly followed was Kids Today off Standards. It was here you realised that Lloyd is a funny man. During the whole show he would stop and tell a story or throw some funny anecdotes along the way, which broke up the evening quite nicely. One that made me laugh was when he talked about always having a guitar tuner on the floor at gigs but has given it away now because he can’t see it anymore.
He then did a lovely rendition of Rattlesnakes, off his debut album of the same name, which caused some frenetic yells from the crowd.
The show was split nicely into two sessions. The first with just Lloyd, as he went through a number of highlights from his solo career, including one of my favourites Music in a Foreign Language. The second, with Neil Clark, adding just a little more layer and meat on the bones to the rest of the evening.
The problem you have when only playing acoustic renditions of the originals is that they can start sounding the same. This occasionally occurred in the first set and, while not a criticism of Lloyd’s singing and musicianship, I wondered just how good many of them would have been with a full band behind him.
The latecomers to the first set were nicely greeted on a number of occasions by Lloyd, in his somewhat low and unemotional voice, stating “for those that have just arrived you have missed Rattlesnake” and with a wry smile set off again.
As the lights came on and signalled the end of the first set it allowed many of the punters to fill up their wine glasses and chat feverishly about their experience so far. The audience was generally made up of disciples. Lovers of fine songwriting and, I suspect, having many of Lloyd’s songs scattered through their adolescence and later years. This makes sense if you have followed the man over the years since LCC. After three of their albums, Lloyd was then rather prolific, bringing out solo albums with regular abundance, including his latest effort Guesswork that was recently released this year.
As the lights were shut off once more, Lloyd Cole was accompanied on stage by Neil and things lifted just a little in both tempo and depth of sound. The banter continued and the genuine excitement of playing with his collaborator was evident for all to see.
Things kicked off with Are You Ready To Be, Woman’s Studies and Charlotte Street all benefiting from Neil’s lead acoustics, which added the characteristic licks and chords from a time gone by.
While the stage setting was minimal, I was really impressed by the sound that swept gently off the stage, capturing both the characteristic squeak of the acoustic strings and the lovely clean vocals of Lloyd.
The second set was a lot longer and by the end of the main set, some 25 tracks had been played. The air conditioning had been turned off amid Lloyd’s concerns that the breeze was going to kill his vocals before the night’s end. While it was hot, damn hot as Robin Williams famously said about the jungle in Good Morning Vietnam, it didn’t seem to affect the audience too much as they got their money’s worth of a show that went for around two and a half hours.
The encore came and went with some lovely renditions of Perfect Skin and Forest Fire closing a memorable night.
I couldn’t help thinking while it was a great night, how much it could have been better if Lloyd and Neil played Rattlesnakes end-to-end. It seemed to be a bit of a lost opportunity. But who knows maybe, just maybe, in 2024 Lloyd Cole will be back one more time with his old band to do just that. Now that would be something wouldn’t it?