Lloyd Cole live in The Empire, Belfast

Lloyd Cole plays something of a show of two-halves, joined on the Empire Music Hall stage in Belfast by original member of The Commotions, Neil Clarke.

The Belfast Empire
4th November 2019

Lloyd causes a bit of a commotion.

A gig of two halves really. A doubled-denimed Lloyd Cole took to the stage on his own, only to be instantly besieged by a particularly inebriated woman desperate to reminisce about a conversation she had had with him in Guilford 15 years ago. Lloyd advised her subtly “you don’t want to get thrown out after one song”. She lasted three, before being asked politely to leave by security. From this slightly flat position, Lloyd battled manfully to re-engage the audience, after the sideshow and did so with aplomb.

An early highlight, ‘Rattlesnakes’ bounces along and he gets the crowd on board with his usual laconic wit. “You thought I was a roadie didn’t you”, he jokes, referencing his greying hair and changed appearance from his 80s and 90s heyday. “But let’s get one thing straight, – you aren’t getting any younger either”! He jokes that there was a time when the audience may have had to leave a gig early, to let the babysitter get home. Now those kids are all grown up, and looking after themselves.

The first set Lloyd played solo and ran though ten of his back catalogue. For the second set, Lloyd was joined on stage by original Commotion, Neil Clark, and double the guitars, double the songs. Clark’s second guitar gave a much more textured depth to the material, and one wondered why, he didn’t feature in the first set, such was the step-up in quality. To be fair, the first set, featuring ‘My Bag’, ‘Baby’ and ‘Late Night, Early Town’, was pretty excellent too, but the interplay between Clark and Cole, on guitar, was exceptional.

The setlist itself doesn’t appear to change much from town to town, but one can hardly argue when all thirty songs, are beautiful little vignettes or expanded meditations on love, and life. Four songs from his recent more electronic album, ‘Guesswork’ are re-worked for guitar and blend seamlessly into his more recognisable work. Indeed ‘Violins’ gets some of the biggest appreciation of the night from the audience –

The missile leaves the car, flies through the window pane. The mother and the child flee the ball of flame. Then we hear the sirens sound, again and again and again so we put on our headphones and complete our retreat.

Maybe the measure of indifference to violence hits a particular nerve here, with its suggestion of compassion fatigue.

‘Myrtle and Wine’, a lesser-known number from his 2013 collection, is another unexpected highlight. There were a few minor mistakes, which added to the night, with Lloyd wryly suggesting, “If you ever witness a flawless performance of my music, you have been watching a tribute act”!

Finishing off with solid classics, ‘Perfect Skin’, ‘Lost Weekend’ and ‘Forest Fire’, Lloyd suggested “Don’t it make you want to smile, like a forest fire”.

I think it’s fair to say that the crowd left the Belfast Empire following his advice, with a broad smile on our faces, and those luminous tunes running through our heads.