Lloyd Cole And The Commotions
Manchester Academy

Judging by his appearance, it looks as if Lloyd Cole has been cryogenically frozen for the past few years. Twenty years after he released his first album, it is clear that he escaped the ravages of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, apart from a tell-tale patch of grey in his thick black fringe.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions never looked liked the types who threw televisions out of hotel windows or did degrading things to groupies, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although Cole dressed like an eternal student, he had a world-weary quality about him back then that suggested he was somewhat older than he looked.

Even during their mid-Eighties prime, you couldn’t describe LCATC as trendy, so there is little fear that the fans who have turned up tonight will miss the edginess the band had in their youth.

As the name implies, this was Cole’s band; awkward and serious, his wry, literate lyrics, sprinkled with pop-cultural landmarks, defined them. I had just started secondary school when their debut Rattlesnakes was released and although I didn’t pick up on all Cole’s references – I liked the sound of ‘she looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfron t’ (‘Rattlesnakes’) even though I had never seen the film and as for ‘listening to Arthur Lee records’, (‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’), well, I’d never heard of the guy. Cole’s words were usually clever and they made us feel smart as we unpicked them. In the musical desert between the end of punk and the rise of Madchester, LCATC were a key, albeit low-key, band.

There was plenty to celebrate when it was announced they were reforming for a short tour to mark the 20th anniversary of their best album, Rattlesnakes, which included a quartet of exceptional singles and has just been re-released in a special edition. It was also a welcome change to see a reunion tour that features all the members of the original line-up. Tonight’s audience are appreciative from the start; there is a gentle roar when they promptly arrive on stage at 9pm. Although this gig takes place at a student venue, looking around it is hard to find anyone here under 30.

Cole, as always, cocks his head to one side and sings with a studied nonchalance. His voice is warm and reverberates even though it doesn’t look as if he is exerting himself. On the faster numbers from Rattlesnakes , which dominate the show, he actually speed-talks as much as he sings, rattling through the words to ‘Perfect Skin’ and the Dylan-esque ‘Four Flights Up’ as if he is in a hurry to get offstage.

It is also noticeable how influenced they are by Americana. They always had a country edge; Julie Burchill hit the spot when she described them as a ‘Country & Western Velvet Underground’, but tonight they sound as if they hailed from the Deep South.

On the brilliant ‘Speedboat’, Cole tells us ‘I was working on my great unfinished novel’ to the accompaniment of eerie bluesy riffs from guitarist Neil Clark. ‘Charlotte Street’ is the closest you will get to swamp-rock this side of the Pen nines complete with a swirling organ signature, and ‘Brand New Friend’ is a slow-burning gospel song with inscrutable lyrics ‘Walking in the pouring rain/Walking with Jesus and Jane/Jane was in her turtleneck/I was much happier then’.

And this is partly what makes LCATC special. It’s the juxtaposition between the earthy music and ambitious words that demands your attention.

In between songs Cole mumbles some small talk, complaining about his age ‘I’m so old’ and poking fun at the recent plight of Manchester City – ‘So when are you going to get rid of Kevin Keegan?’ But he redeems himself with the locals, with a smart joke naturally, at the end of ‘Perfect Skin’ when he changes a line so that the ‘heroine is sexually enlightened by the Manchester Guardian ‘, rather than the original ‘ Cosmopolitan ‘.

The rest of the band are in less playful mood, addressing their instruments with the understandable seriousness of musicians who, until recently, hadn’t performed together in more than a decade. Although readers will be pleased to learn that bass guitarist and regular Observer contributor Lawrence Donegan looks like he is taking a pleasant trip down memory lane.

In fact, we all are. The show is basically a greatest hits collection, and the hits are well worth hearing again. On form, they were one of the best British bands of the Eighties.

‘I bet you didn’t think we had so many songs,’ says Cole towards the end of the show. ‘We were only around for a year or two.’ Cole, of course, was being falsely modest. His band made an impression then and now – just ask anyone who braved the rain and the singer’s puns to show their support. It would just be nice if we didn’t have to wait another 20 years for the next reunion.

Publication: The Observer

Publication date: 17/10/04