Lloyd Cole’s songs make me feel like I’m chasing Molly Ringwald down a high school hallway, away from my gang of insincere rich-kid acquaintances, running from me because I shunned her in front of them and I’m too cool to fall in love in public. There were a lot of grownup Ringwalds at Fez, getting tipsy on umbrella drinks and longingly gazing into Lloyd’s sad blue eyes. Thanks to the giant disco ball attached to the ceiling, and judging by the general age and look of the audience, I felt like I was in that nutty Best of the 80s commercial. Hey, Betty why don’t you come over to my house? I got this great 80s collection, and we re dancing on the ceiling’ Cut to thirtysomething white people swinging their arms to the Go-Gos.

But then again, Cole has done much of his best work in the 90s on his solo albums. He even had the gumption to open his show with a new unreleased song, “I Can’t Recall,” a true beauty along the lines of his many melancholy gems. Two other new songs, “The Impossible Girl” and “That Boy” also sounded like winners. His next album should be much like his last: a solid collection of beautifully written, well-performed pop…that lands him in clubs the size of Fez.

Playing live, Cole & the Negatives add a harder edge to his songs, which can often sound too smooth and controlled in the studio. Some nuance may be lost, but it is more than compensated for with a driving, Velvet Underground-sounding buzz that gives the songs’ inherent melancholy a certain sting. The band was excellent, as was the sound, so clear you could hear every well-chosen and often pithy word coming from Cole’s lips. Jill Sobule on lead guitar was looking all spunky in her Denver Broncos Orange Crush Defense T-shirt. She serves as a great visual counterpoint to Cole’s mildly anguished demeanor; Cole is a lucky man to have such a brilliant performer backing him. He’s no slouch onstage, either. It’s hard to describe his look-say somewhere between Chris Isaak and Dennis Quaid, with a self-effacing personality much like Richard Thompson’s that comes out in between-song banter. His funniest bit was noting that he had “made the mistake” of checking his Web site to read that he had quit drinking, which was news to him, as he had started once again.

The set spanned his entire career from Perfect Skin through all his solo albums and the previously mentioned unreleased songs. The band tore through a spirited cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Modern World,” too. The encore was “The Rose,” yes, from the movie, a tenderly strummed solo with Sobule holding up a notebook of lyrics for Cole to read from. Tears were shed. Hearts were sent aflutter.

Publication: NY Press Music Xtra

Publication date: 06/05/98