He used to be famous, did Lloyd Cole. About the time yours truly was still in winklepickers, stovepipes and thin leather ties.

Cole was mid-80s cool – moody songs, moody hair and not a one-fingered synthesiser player in sight. Quite the rebel.

As shown by albums such as Rattlesnakes, his debut with backers The Commotions, he was an English singer-songwriter with a Scottish band and a bad case of America-envy – his was an arthouse view of the territory, and names such as Memphis, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote were all casually dropped into his Lou Reed-like delivery.

We went off him eventually, about the time he actually went to the United States – at the end of the decade.

Now all these years later, there is Lloyd Cole, Commotion-free with just an acoustic guitar and two books (one for his songs, one for other people’s) on the tiny stage of the Kings Arms, on the first of two sold-out nights over the weekend.

The show is nearly two hours, with a break in the middle.

“Phone your babysitters and tell them you’re going to be late,” quips the 39-year-old Cole.

He does a good line in quips. He is also self-deprecating about his (and our) advancing years and his low-profile of recent times: “Here’s another new song, as in, written in the last five years.”

But musically, he is also quietly spellbinding. Yes, nostalgia for those winklepickered days might rose-tint the appreciation.

But with just his lyrical acoustic guitar work and his elegant murmur of a singing voice, Cole still brings his best-known tunes back to 3D life.

Those “new” songs suggest that as a songwriter, he has gone nicely from arthouse to home movie, while those other people’s songs include a Leonard Cohen song or two and a song which actress Karen Black wrote for her role in Robert Altman’s film Nashville. Phew, maximum High Fidelity obscurity points on that one, huh?

Still, it is a performance that connects with the faithful and shows that his songs have aged better than many of the Radio with Pictures era.

If there is a Cole cult following going, where do we sign?

Publication: The New Zealand Herald

Publication date: 04/12/00