By Scott Roberts; photos by Sue Volkert
Growing up gracefully in rock and roll is not always easy, but singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole has figured it out quite nicely. The once asymmetrically-coiffed, raven-haired leader of Glasgow’s The Commotions is now a 50-year-old based in Massachusetts and his accountant’s haircut now sports graying temples; his clothing looks as if it would be more at home on a golf course than a stage. But what matters is the music and Cole proved on Saturday night at The 5 Spot that he still has something to say, and says it more intelligently and melodically — though slightly more quietly — than most anyone else out there.
Gone are the jangly pop arrangements of his more-than-25-year-old work with The Commotions, or the often frenzied guitar-fueled (and then later occasionally orchestral) work of his initial post-Commotions solo output. Cole is now touring with two acoustic accompanists, dubbed the Small Ensemble — Matt Cullen (guitar and banjo) and Mark Schweber (guitar and mandolin) — and is playing songs from his impressive body of work that are well-served by the trio’s sparse treatments. The inherent beauty of softer Commotions favorites like “2CV” and “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken” took on an added poignancy as delivered by Cole and his cohorts’ uncluttered arrangements, and latter-day solo numbers such as “My Alibi” and “Man Overboard” had a freshness that demanded a respectful revisiting. Perhaps the only misstep from the well-paced setlist was ending the evening with the one-song encore, “Forest Fire,” a Commotions chestnut Cole apparently never tires of, but whose inspired and climactic Neil Clark guitar solo was definitely missed.
To say The 5 Spot was “packed” would definitely be an understatement, but the well-mannered and appreciative crowd made the best of what could have been an uncomfortable experience. Cole was perhaps not as used to the Southern heat as most of the audiences as he wrote on his Facebook page the day following the show that he was “worr[ied] I might faint almost the whole night.” Despite his trepidation, Lloyd Cole and the Small Ensemble not only presented a laidback and entertaining evening of music, the still-baby-faced songwriter with the brooding reputation affably stuck around afterward to sign autographs and pose for pictures with dozens of fans.