THE first clue that this evening is unlikely to offer cutting-edge rock is the audience profile: never has the Barrowland seen so many baldy heads and chambray shirts tucked into jeans (at least not since the last time Status Quo played). Here and there is the odd gangly youth – probably brought along by parents who couldn’t find a babysitter – but on the whole the crowd is strictly made up of 30- and 40-somethings.
Aside from celebrating the 20th anniversary of their first album, Rattlesnakes, Lloyd Cole And The Commotions claim they don’t really know why they reformed for this tour, which also takes in Manchester and London. These days, only Cole and guitarist Neil Clark are still working as musicians. Drummer Stephen Irvine manages a band, keyboard player Blair Cowan is in IT and bassist Lawrence Donegan is an author and journalist, one who frequently contributes to this paper. In a recent interview, the band suggested that Donegan may have inspired this mini-comeback by writing about it in a column. Whatever the inspiration, now thousands of middle-aged fans have the opportunity to wallow once more in the soundtrack that accompanied – if not defined – their angst-ridden teenage love lives.

The first song is, predictably enough, Rattlesnakes. It’s well received: the bankers, lawyers and housewives that comprise the 1500-strong crowd clap and cheer enthusiastically – albeit a little reservedly. By Charlotte Street they’re humming along, while From The Hip (from the band’s third album Mainstream) elicits a full-scale karaoke response.

During the middle of the set, the band wind down for slower, more contemplative work. Yet Cole is visibly struggling with the physical effort of playing guitar and belting out lyrics under the unforgiving stage lights. Wiping down his forehead with a pink towel, he quips to fans that he’s getting old but is consoling himself with the thought of losing a few pounds. It’s fighting talk, but doesn’t change the fact that he resembles Paula Radcliffe when she pulled out of the Olympic marathon in Greece. There’s also a moment when he glances woefully at the ceiling, suggesting that he’d rather be anywhere than here, trying to give his most loyal fans a gig worth their £25.

Fortunately, when the set swings back into uptempo pop, with Brand New Friend (from the album Easy Pieces), Cole seems reinvigorated. As if in response, the audience grows more animated too. A few crowdpleasers later, and the braying mob aren’t just remembering their teenage years, they’re acting them out, whooping, hollering and demanding more, more, more. The evening finishes with favourites Jennifer She Said, Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken and Forest Fires.

So is the return of Lloyd Cole And The Commotions a celebratory party for a still-loyal fanbase or a blatant cash-in on the current 1980s revival? On this evidence, probably the former. Cole’s literary lyrics may have survived the test of time, but the band’s whim sical brand of pop is of the past – and since they have no plans to reassemble on a permanent basis, they all seem to agree that’s where it belongs.

Publication: The Sunday Herald

Publication date: 17/10/04