A couple of months ago I was perusing the concert calendar of The Grey Eagle as I am wont to do on a Friday night, and I was floored to see that Lloyd Cole was due to play in a few months time Mid-June. Lloyd Cole shone brightly upon his debut in 1984 with the single “Perfect Skin.” In a year dominated by cybernetic studio pop creations like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions proffered good old fashioned talent and songcraft, coupled with able musicianship. In short, they were the anti-FGTH and as such, equally beloved by The Monk. It’s the mushy middle that I have no interest in.
I zipped over to Lloyd’s website and was flabbergasted to not see the dates showing as of yet, but I e-mailed friends and let them know the good news; Lloyd Cole was coming to town and was to be missed at their peril! Eventually, his full US tour began to take shape and friends in Chapel Hill were getting their own show at the Carrboro Arts Center. When the night of the show happened, I beat a hasty retreat to The Grey Eagle when I saw that the show had an 8:00 p.m. start time – as I read those words at 7:45! I entered the building at 8:04 and the man at the door said that he had only played one song previously. As I entered the space the rich sound of three acoustic guitars filled the atmosphere as the Lloyd Cole Small Ensemble were in full flight. The Grey Eagle has an all wood interior so the place resonates with lots of warmth, given the right stimulus.
The Small Ensemble is Cole’s self-proclaimed “baby bluegrass” band featuring Mark Schwaber on acoustic guitar and mandolin and Matt Cullen on acoustic guitar and banjo. They have apparently rehearsed 35 songs in Cole’s body of work, so a good third of it is game for their tour. For the most part, all of the classic period Cole songs actually sound better in this acoustic and intimate, but not spartan setting. With three players, they can really stretch out on the arrangements and believe me, you’re not missing percussion or keys. One exception to this was my favorite Cole tune, “2CV,” which always devastates me every time that I hear it. On “Rattlesnakes,” it’s the most spartan tune there with naught but Cole singing over an acoustic guitar with a light wash of strings. In this setting, it actually sounded grandiloquent with the addition of mandolin and a second guitar. Nevertheless, I will confess to the hairs on my arms standing up when he launched into the song nonetheless!
Cole played two generous sets that hit many high points from both The Commotions as well as his solo career. Songs from his marvelous new “Broken Record” slotted effortlessly into the set, showing just what a consistently excellent songwriter he’s been since day one. A month prior to the show I was playing “Rattlesnakes,” and my wife, who has a passing familiarity his music asked if this was his greatest hits album. “No, it’s his debut,” I exclaimed. It’s worth remembering that for every few dozen musicians who take two or three albums to hit their stride, Cole was among the few who had honed their craft considerably before hitting the studio that first time.
Cole was full of self-deprecating humor and was happy to meet well wishers after the show. Having a child entering NYU, he quipped that he “would sign anything” after the show. Since the last Cole album to enter the Monk’s Record Cell was 1993’s “Bad Vibes,” I was definitely buying “Broken Record” and the live in the studio Small Ensemble recording “Slaughter House Studios 1-22-2010.” Both were a steal at the combo price of $25. Coupled with the door, that upped my tithe to a more respectable $40; certainly worthy of the rich music on delivery that evening.
As usual, Asheville let me down with more of its “pearls before swine” attitudes that saw an audience of approximately 40-50 make a small dent in The Grey Eagle’s capacity. This town lives for bluegrass and jam bands and bad folk singers are in hog heaven here. This was yet another show with a highly esteemed, world class performer making their first appearance in Asheville only to have a small turnout; even while playing music that is typical of what this town seems to go for in a big way [only better]. Afterward, I thanked Mr. Cole for giving me a chance to hear him sing; I’d given up on that thought about 20 years earlier! I told him I would browbeat my friends in Chapel Hill into attending his next show the following evening. They did and reported back that he got a more appropriate turnout in sophisticated Carrboro. If Cole is making his way to your home town, by all means treat yourself to some of the best songs of his generation in a live and intimate setting.
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Thoroughly enjoying your ‘blog and insights Monk! I saw Lloyd Cole in a packed Wellington Opera House last year, and feel lucky to have done so in this time of live music gatherings in hiatus. I’ve loved Lloyd Cole’s recent solo albums, with the latest, “Guesswork”, featuring intriguing Blue Nile elements and plenty of lush synth and fine guitar as you;’d expect.
Chas Dawson – Welcome to the comments! Great to get some messages from NZ! I deeply envy your Government! I have not kept up with Cole since that live event you commented on. It’s so hard to buy things that are not in front of you. And buying online has basically unlimited options, so it’s hard to decide what of the hundreds of items I want gets my scanty entertainment dollar, so I usually neglect to buy anything that is not an obsession. That new Cole sounds fantastic! I’m sure I would enjoy it but it is the kind of thing that I would buy in a store when I ran across it. I’m still very old fashioned in my consumption practices!