Lloyd Cole began his solo acoustic show at the Birchmere on Thursday night with a new tune called “No More Love Songs.”

Of course, he then played a bunch anyway. Such sharp contradiction is at the heart of Cole’s best songs, and his two-hour, career-spanning show revealed that his work has lost little of its dramatic edge.

A month shy of his 40th birthday, Cole no longer writes in the literary, Leonard Cohen- and Lou Reed-obsessed style that marked his 1984 debut with the Commotions. His current, more conservative template may be attributable to experiences like being dropped by his record label and becoming a parent, but he hasn’t completely abandoned his bookish tendencies. An example of his current mind-set: He began the show by asking how many of the near-capacity crowd were paying babysitters, yet he still covered Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” and dropped Joseph Conrad, Martin Amis and Kurt Vonnegut casually into his stage banter.

Cutting many of his songs nearly in half, Cole correctly sensed that a number of his compositions miss the Byrdsian jangle he often records them with. Still, in more than 35 selections, he covered nearly everything well, from early Commotions classics (“Four Flights Up,” “Rattlesnakes,” “Lost Weekend,” “Cut Me Down”), middle-period solo records (“Butterfly,” “Mister Wrong,” “Sentimental Fool”), covers (Bob Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now,” George Jones’s “She Thinks I Still Care”) and new tunes. The latter came from a record with his new band the Negatives, out as an import and with songs like “Past Imperfect” and “That Boy” suggesting–as did Thursday’s show–that Cole is still capable of matching the vitality of his best early work.

Publication: The Washington Post

Publication date: 30/12/00