For the crowd heading to Brighton Dome on this damp Hallows’ Eve, no tricks on offer: instead, irresistible musical treats from this 80s veteran singer-songwriter. It’s just shy of 40 years since the release of his iconic album ‘Rattlesnakes’ with his band The Commotions, yet Lloyd Cole continues on his creative path, amassing an impressive back catalogue which now includes his recent, well-received 12th solo album ‘On Pain’.
Casually strolling on stage, guitar in hand, Lloyd Cole causes a scramble as latecomers rush to take their seats during the opener ‘Don’t Look Back’ from his first solo album. It’s a textbook start, setting a mood of reflection which underpins the whole evening as he sings out “Don’t you feel kinda old now, well ain’t that the funny thing”. His vocals, still as rich and distinctive as back in the day, fill every nook and cranny of the auditorium, ironically and instantly melting those years away for many here. Dressed in serene white stage clothes, for one night only, his welcoming words are “Boo! Happy Halloween” which prompts the first of many ripples of laughter amongst his attentive audience.
Over the next couple of songs, we are drip fed the band: the presence of guitarist Neil Clark and keyboardist Blair Cowan rack up three members of the original Commotions tonight and they are helped by the versatile safe hands of Scottish-Icelandic percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir. By the third song, ‘Trigger Happy’ from the 1995 album ‘Love Story’, they are all playing in unison with Signy’s delicately subtle bell responses adding a new freshness to this old favourite.
The acoustic first half mainly consists of vintage tracks from Commotion and solo albums, yet sandwiched in between is a stunning, stripped-down version of the new album’s title track ‘On Pain’, sitting so comfortably we could easily mistake it for an old classic. Standout moments include revisiting 1985 with the hooky ‘Why I Love Country Music’, a haunting performance of the intriguing instrumental ‘Headlights’ (which sees Lloyd jump onto keys too with Blair, creating an electronic hum which blends perfectly with twinkling melodic percussion) and ‘Tried To Rock’ which gives us a taste of the all-electric second set to come: drums now driving and thumping whilst Neil’s guitar takes a frenzied flight in partnership with a heavier vocal delivery from the frontman.
Lloyd wraps up part one with a confession that although Brighton is the last UK date on the tour, he feels they have only just got started. With his endearing, wry sense of humour he announces: “You will have gathered by now that we are your opening act, we’re gonna play a couple more songs and then there’ll be an intermission after which we will headline.” Cheers from the crowd erupt to another level when those couple more songs turn out to be Commotion classics ‘Rattlesnakes’ and ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’.
There’s another scramble to seats as the lights dim once more for the band’s return. Lloyd Cole is now on bass duties, completing the full sound as they open with the driving, rocky ‘No Blue Skies’, again from his first solo album. The audience are nicely warmed up, excitable now as someone screams out “Lloyd!” and his quick response is “yep, that’s me, gonna be here all night!” More laughter as this crowd settles in to the new vibe.
The songwriter gives us a tip about his newer recordings: “they tend to be more electronic and longer than you think.” ‘Night Sweats’ from the 2019 album ‘Guesswork’ is no exception with a strong pulsing rhythmic beat backing glistening synth and guitar parts, bonding the band with the audience. The powerfully anthemic ‘Violins’ from the same album receives an equally loud cheer. It all suddenly feels very modern and exciting, a reminder that we are not just here for a nostalgic trip.
More back catalogue is revisited, including ‘Pay For It’ written back in 1991, which features spacey keys courtesy of Mr Cowan, before Commotions heavyweights ‘Perfect Skin’ and ‘Brand New Friend’ really gets the party going with a bang. The final section of the set-list is cleverly orchestrated with crowd favourites interspersed with showcasing the new album. The biggest surprise comes from a spellbinding performance of ‘Wolves’, a dark, eerie track from ‘On Pain’ which has everyone in the room utterly memorised. It’s a perfect, mystical soundtrack for the night and an audience member calls out “beautiful” initiating an extra round of applause. The goosebumps keep on coming with the exquisitely reflective fan favourite ‘Forest Fire’ before we cool off with a mellow encore of ‘The Young Idealists’. Finally, ‘Mainstream’ wraps things up to a standing ovation.
Lloyd Cole has considered his audience perfectly, leaving nothing out to cause disappointment whilst exploring an exciting new era of writing and recording with a fresh bunch of songs that have the potential to become future classics themselves. Judging by the queue at the merch table after the show, with most folk snapping up the latest release, it seems that everyone is in agreement: we are delighted to still be on this journey with Lloyd.
Brighton Dome, Tuesday 31st October 2023
Words by Anita Joyce
Photos by Alix Olivero