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Review: Lloyd Cole at Dunstan Playhouse

With a career-spanning show featuring cuts from Rattlesnakes to new album Guesswork, Lloyd Cole offers a moment to reflect on how his songbook, and fanbase, are holding up several decades in.

Lloyd Cole has a lot of songs. Like, a lot of songs.

And unlike certain other creative peers of early 80s UK indie – Morrissey, we’re looking at you – he’s never gone through a bad writing patch, much less thrown his lot in with white nationalists. So when he advertises a career spanning show from his first album to his latest, it’s because he can do that without anyone going “yeah, but I like your old stuff better…”

Even so, there’s a smirk on his face following his romp through the beloved title track of the Commotion’s classic debut album three songs in, shaking his head and admonishing a group of latecomers “you missed Rattlesnakes”.

This is because Cole knows his audience. There has never been a more accurate piece of withering stage banter than when he took the stage, looking fit, trim and well-preserved for his 58 years, and tells the audience “you’re also not getting any younger.”

Cruel, but accurate: there are clearly a lot of people, your reviewer among them, who fell in love with this man and his music in their undergraduate days and are now a lot greyer, paunchier and more bespectacled than they were back then.

The first set was Cole solo, playing through classics and should-have-been classics – highlights including Past Imperfect, Music In A Foreign Language, Commotions favourite My Bag and the closing Late Night, Early Town, before a brief encore after which he’s joined by his career long foil Neil Clark, Commotions guitarist and regular guest throughout Cole’s solo career.

The second set took some unexpected turns, eschewing some of the bigger songs (no Like Lovers Do, much less Brand New Friend) for deeper cuts – Hey Rusty, from the third and final Commotions album, was a left of centre choice, and it was a delight to hear Why I Love Country Music segue into Like A Broken Record (complete with a warning to any younger listeners that it’s illegal to attempt a medley until the age of 45).

As the second set reached its midpoint Cole quipped that this was the point where he’d usually joke about the audience getting texts from their babysitters, “…but by this stage the eldest is more than capable of looking after the others.” Again, accurate.

For the encore it was a stately turn through debut solo single No Blue Skies (and oh god, it was wonderful to hear Clark’s inspired guitar flourishes) before bidding us farewell with Rattlesnakes’ beloved Forest Fire – a perhaps insensitive choice given the current fire season, but no less beautiful for it.

He might not be getting any younger, but this show proves he’s been accumulating a hell of a soundtrack the whole way along.

Lloyd Cole performed at Dunstan Playhouse on Thursday 12 December

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

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Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

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