Thus far Lloyd Cole has made two references to Amsterdam is his songs. I wouldn’t be surprised if after last night we will soon be honoured with a third, most likely of a similar nature as the first two. If there is something of a relationship between artist and town, it’s certainly not a warm one. Lost Weekend (1985) – last night’s closing song – describes Cole falling ill in the Marriott hotel with a ‘double pneumonia in a single room´ and ´the sickest joke was the price of the medicine’. In Past Imperfect (2000) he was sublimely addressing the advantages and disadvantages of the gaps in memory that occur with age, especially when trying to recall one’s motivation during specific periods or events: ‘What was on my mind in Amsterdam in 1985? What did I want from the pouring rain, was it phonographic score?’ That’s probably how he got that pneumonia, it wasn’t our fault.

Of course past experiences subconsciously determine our attitude towards a place or person regardless of fault. Perhaps that is why Thursday night Mr. Cole is not wearing his happy cap. In theory the relatively new venue called People´s Place, (a rather misleading communal hippy name, considering that it’s owned by Tommy Hilfiger) is the perfect venue for Lloyd Cole’s Small Ensemble, apart from Lloyd consisting of Matt Cullen on steel string guitar and banjo and Mark Schwaber on nylon and steel string guitar and mandolin. The size and acoustics of the room are well suited for the ensemble’s modest volume and for the modest crowd (around two hundred I estimate) coming to see their old eighties idol. It’s a seated concert, not my thing, but considering that I’m one of the younger people there, probably a wise decision.

Ambiance and audience go hand in hand, but at least two people in the room are not enjoying themselves as much as they could. One is the drunken idiot sitting right in front of us, talking loudly, at one point yelling: ‘Stop the phucking tuning!’ and almost having himself removed by security. The other is the lead man of the small ensemble. Everything seems to go relatively well during the first three songs. A somewhat tired looking Lloyd Cole seems to be going through the motions, throwing in Perfect Skin as an early crowd pleaser, but then it’s like Amsterdam all over again. First there’s the icy draft at the back of Lloyd’s neck, then miscommunication with the soundman and finally even Lloyd himself seems to be bothered by the frequent tuning between songs, not so much, tough, as with that member in the audience yelling at him to phucking stop doing it. When I speak to him after the show (the idiot, not Lloyd) and ask him if he’d really rather listen to a show with untuned guitars just to save on the twenty second pauses between songs, his answer is: ‘He should just give it all he’s got and play and not tune the whole damn time.’ I cannot argue against that kind of logic.

More important than Lloyd’s disposition is what the small ensemble sounds like. Listening closely and having attended more Lloyd Cole gigs than probably anyone else from Amsterdam I will carefully and specifically qualify it as: not bad. The set contains several songs I’ve never heard play live before. The ensemble’s version of Margo’s Waltz is excellent and preferable to it’s mushy original version (from Don’t get weird on me, babe 1991).The Tim Hardin covers Lady came from Baltimore and Reason to Believe rolled into one are a highlight of the performance, not because I rate Hardin’s song writing higher than Lloyds but because the Hardin medley is somehow played more loosely than Lloyd’s own material. It’s one of the rare occasions during the gig when there are three men enjoying themselves on stage, instead of two.

Unsurprisingly most of the new material from last years Broken Record, Lloyds most folky release to date, works fine in the small ensemble line up. Like a Broken Record and Writers Retreat are sing-a-long classics already, but Man Overboard, a song I thought I liked mainly because of Blair Cowan’s accordion, also sounds great tonight, supported by just two guitars and a banjo. I am less enthusiastic about the ensemble performing songs that were also part of Cole’s solo folksinger set. I’ve never missed the Commotions or the Negatives when listening to the folksinger set, but tonight I miss them both plus Joan Wasser. The ensembles arrangements do not sound terribly creative and instead of resulting in more than the sum of its parts, the addition of two extra instruments somehow seems to flatten the songs. When some more variation is added, mainly by Schwaber’s mandolin, the music becomes more interesting but not necessarily easier on the ear. If I owned a gun, that mandolin wouldn’t have seen the end last night’s version of Trigger Happy.

Don’t get me wrong. As far as I am concerned this century has yet to see a better set of live recordings than Lloyd’s folksinger volumes. They are hard to top or equal, even by the artist himself. Then again, seeing as his touring buddies apparently do not have a lasting positive effect on Lloyd’s mood and we have to miss out on his normally so entertaining monologues (the Alice Cooper one during Impossible Girl being my absolute favourite) I’m not yet a huge fan the small ensemble. Perhaps they will grow on me or perhaps last nights performance was not exemplary for the tour and there really such a thing as the Lloyd Cole-Amsterdam curse.

Late Night, Early Town and Like lovers do were switched for reasons of tuning effiency.

Reprise: meeting your idol
I think it’s written somewhere that it’s never a good idea to meet your idol. I choose to ignore this wisdom when I see Lloyd Cole sitting behind the table where Broken Record and the Small Ensemble CD are sold. Deep inside we are all just teenagers and there’s nothing pathetic about wanting my copies singed and to shake hands with the artist. What follows is a meeting that will definitely not make it into a Lloyd Cole song. First, the lady selling the CD’s suspects me of not paying for at least one of the two CD’s, making me forget what I want Lloyd to write (I made up something like ‘Lloyd Cole loves Indiefuzz. Will you guys please take my interview’). So, standing there in front of my great hero, I panic and say ‘just write what you want to write’, which is a rather stupid thing to say at a signing session. Next I can’t get the plastic foil off of the Broken Record Cd cover and a visibly irritated Lloyd Cole has to do it for me. At that point I think it might be a good idea to accuse his management of not responding to our e-mails and Lloyd tells me to fuck-off, well he doesn’t, but he should.

It just goes to show that if it’s written down somewhere, it’s probably true.

Afterwards the people of People’s Place inform us that Lloyd Cole has been showing diva behaviour all afternoon. It’s a great consolation. Lloyd doesn’t hate me, he hates this whole fucking town!

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Publication date: 21/04/11