By his own meticulous standards, a slightly unkempt Lloyd Cole strolled onto the Hall 2 stage and with only the merest hint of a smile he started the concert with a haunting version of “Past Imperfect.” As soon as it finished he smiled another feint smile and slid impeccably into “Music Is A Foreign Language” from the 2003 album of the same name. As that song ended Lloyd took a quick gulp of water before telling us that: ‘It must have been 10 years since he last sang the next song’ and the audience cheered their approval as they recognised the opening chords to “Charlotte Street,” which just happens to be my own favourite Cole song. Hearing the man, who wrote these magical words accompany himself on guitar as he sang it, was simply spellbinding.It took the wordsmith a few songs to relax but when he did the chat between songs was particularly funny and quite self-depreciating—especially when he explained his shaggy hair by explaining that his regular hairdresser was ‘snowed in’ back in New England and he doesn’t trust anyone else with his hair. After seeing Cole many times over the years I hadn’t realised what a particularly good guitarist he is; even accounting for the sore fingertips that bothered him all night. For the uninitiated Lloyd Cole’s songs are all about love in one form or another and contain more big words than even William Shakespeare ever dreamt of; but that’s why we love him! His detractors always accuse him of being pretentious but what’s wrong with songs that are intelligent, poetic and melodic? It’s served Leonard Cohen well for the last 40 years. The biggest surprise of the night for me was when I heard the long forgotten “Baby” from 1995’s LOVE STORY; as Cole’s delivery was very Ram-period McCartney which is high praise indeed.The second set got off to fantastic start with raw versions of fans’ favourites “Rattlesnakes” and “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” which both had the crowd grinning like ninnies. Even the more recent songs from his back catalogue were greeted with generous applause but as usual it was the ‘hits’ from the 1980s that most people wanted to hear and when we heard the intro to “Brand New Friend” I thought that a woman in the row in front was going to combust! As the night drew to a close Lloyd managed to throw another curve ball with a spectacularly brittle version of 1990’s “Undressed” which brought a lump to my cynical throat. The fingers on his left hand were noticeably giving him trouble by now but it actually made songs like 2CV become slightly bluesy which wasn’t something that I’d expected; but loved the change.Lloyd ended the night with two more songs from the 1980s—“Lost Weekend” and a very slow and intensely sexy “Forest Fire” which had the sold-out audience miming along with gusto. So there you have it; a 1980s pop star turned 21st century folk singer and at the moment I can’t think of anyone looking or sounding better. Alan Harrison

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Publication: Maverick

Publication date: 17/11/11