It’s little wonder that Lloyd Cole so enjoys coming our way: three sold-out shows at the Basement isn’t a bad way to end an Australian tour. Acting as his own opening act (“And in that spirit, I’m going to play songs you don’t want to hear, and probably don’t know”) he indicated quite how playful he was prepared to be by opening with ‘29′, a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower Of Song’ and his classic ‘Rattlesnakes’. While the hangdog expression remains (as do to the high-waisted trousers), so does that uniquely expression-filled voice. Actually, I take that back: Cole’s a better singer now than he’s ever been with a world-weariness that brings new life to classics like ‘Cut Me Down’ and ‘That’s Why I Love Country Music’ as much as it suits the wry narrators of more recent material like ‘Woman In A Bar’ and ‘Late Night, Early Town’.

The highlights were many (and the as-yet-unreleased material sounds superb), but for my money his performance of the underrated ‘Morning Is Broken’ (preceded with the explanation “This is where I lost most of you”), and the version of ‘No Blue Skies’ that ended his first set, pointing out that the bridge owes an unconscious debt to Bauhaus’ ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ (“…which has all but ruined the song for me. On the plus side, I hear that Pete Murphy’s a lovely fellow”). Come to think of it, Lloyd was getting downright playful with his medleys in the second set: ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’ was undercut with a cheeky coda from Steve Miller’s ‘The Joker’ while ‘Music In A Foreign Language’ received a straightfaced intro from The Killers’ ‘Human’.

Naturally it was the Commotions material that drew the most spontaneous singalongs (especially Easy Pieces-era, somewhat surprisingly: it appears everyone in Sydney knows the words to ‘Lost Weekend’), but my heart in mouth moment was toward the end of the night as he swept through the beautiful, broken ‘No More Love Songs’: “I’ll drink to harmony, peace and disarmament, I’ll dance the victory waltz”. Truly, no-one does mock-offhand like Lloyd Cole.

Publication: Time Out Sydney

Publication date: 14/11/09