Lloyd Cole (Wednesday, July 16th, 2004, Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis)

Many longtime Lloyd Cole fans have personal connections to his music, and I’m no different; though to be fair, my connection may be more morbid than most: In the late nineties, I chose the music for my funeral, and two of the songs on the “playlist” are by Lloyd Cole.

Lloyd Cole at the Fine Line – Photo by David de Young

The most troubling thing about the playlist is not so much that it exists as that it was created with my parents and friends in mind as funeral attendees and listeners.

My funeral procession starts with the first song from Cole’s 1990 solo debut, with the appropriate title, “Don’t Look Back.” It wasn’t just the poignant line “Life seems never ending when you’re young” that earned it this spot. It was the carefree, Easy Rider, wind-blowing in your face as you roll down the highway vibe and the generalized “Fuck You” feeling of the opening line, “When you’re nothing to no one / And you’re less to your kin. / And you’re looking for someone / who won’t cling to anything.” What great words to greet your friends and family at your wake!

The middle of my funeral features a departure from Lloyd Cole, showcasing XTC’s “Easter Theatre,” a song that, on the surface, seems to be a song of springtime, sunshine, and bunnies. A deeper analysis yields themes of earthly delight and indisputable pagan imagery of death and resurrection. Stick the lyric “Now the son has died, the father can be born” in your church organ and play it on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. (Incidentally, if the moon is full on the first Sunday after the vernal equinox, Easter gets pushed back another week.) And then imagine your father listening to the lyrics while your casket lies open amongst the lilies.

Finally (though never soon enough) comes the recessional, again courtesy of Mr. Cole. This time, it’s “Morning is Broken” from Bad Vibes (the similarity of the words to a song canonized in Christian hymnals was surely not lost on the song’s author.) This song accompanies the journey of my casket from the church to the cemetery. (I break into my review editorially at this point to remind the reader this is all mere fantasy, of course, because I intend to be cremated, I have no desire for a funeral, and if I did, about the last place I would want it to be would be in a church.)

I won’t give the impact of “Morning is Broken” away. Listen to it yourself, or look up the lyrics. It’s a brilliant songwriting effort—Cole solves the problem of where you can take this song when there seems to be nowhere else it could reasonably go. In the context of lowering my casket into the ground, the last line should make most guests swallow what’s left of their Adams apples.

By way of that lengthy, self-indulgent introduction, I intended to clarify that Lloyd Cole is one of my favorite pop musicians. Like Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Drake, New Order, and very few others, his music has a special meaning to me. Seeing him perform a two-set acoustic show Wednesday at the Fine Line was nothing short of a joy.

The first set included many songs from his new Music In a Foreign Language CD and a few gems from the old days, including the classic first solo release. (When he played funeral song #1, “Don’t Look Back,” he repeated the line “Life seems never-ending when you’re young” for emphasis.) He played “Butterfly” from “Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe” and even ended the first set with the Commotions song “Rattlesnakes.” But if what you want is the set list, Karla Ludzack was kind enough to transcribe the entire thing as part of her review here.

Cole was all over his map, playing what were, in my opinion, some of the best songs of his career. And because his song selection ran so close to my list of favorites, I felt the majority of the set was played with someone like me in mind.

And who am I? I am no Johnny-come-lately Lloyds Cole fan.

Exhibit 1: I closed out the “club nights” I played as a DJ in college in 1985 with “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” from Rattlesnakes because I had an ironic sense of humor and wanted to rub it into the people who were going home alone. “Lean over on the bookcase if you really want to get straight / Read Norman Mailer / or get a new tailor” may sound ironic, but it’s not bad advice.

Exhibit 2: I became a bigger Lloyd fan after he parted ways with the Commotions and started working with bassist Matthew Sweet, drummer and producer Fred Maher, and recently deceased (June 8th) guitarist Robert Quine. I rarely drag out the old Commotions albums, preferring my Lloyd “straight up.”

Considering that it’s been a long road for most of us, Cole remarked near the end of the first set, “I see I’m not the only one who’s getting on,” speaking to the noticeably graying hair of a few patrons. He also suggested that many of the couples sitting at the cabaret tables may not have had an equal desire to be at the show, but I’m not sure if he was thinking of the men or women; I think his crowd is nicely divided between the sexes.

The second set was just as essential as the first and I opened up with my old club-closer, “Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?”

A few songs into the originals in set 2, he introduced a song he said he wrote in 1968 or 1969 “after a blood transfusion.” The song was Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away,” and the “No matter what you think about it, there’s just no way you’re going to live without it. Take a tip from one who’s tried” line was about as heart-wrenching and believable as when Johnny cash covered “Hurt.”

Cole noticed someone playing air guitar to this song and said, “Right on.” He also said he was “Getting sick of this tuning thing.” He blamed the over-active air-conditioning for his guitars continuing to stray from intonation.

“Sentimental Fool” from Love Story gave me goosebumps. This song should be a required study for songwriters. Note the vodka (“please make mine straight Absolute”) that is hardly mentioned for the entire song only to return to be finished (“I’m draining the glass for you”) at the end.

Lines like, “Don’t you see my girl, she’s almost like you,” are so brilliant they should be illegal.

Before playing “Unhappy Song,” also from Love Story, Cole mentioned that he’s not a melancholy guy, but “What’s there to say about being happy?” He proudly reaffirmed that he has two bright, healthy kids and informed us, “My wife is every bit as amazing and wonderful as you’d imagine she would be.”

He ended the song with a Tom Waits impression.

Cole honored a request for “My Bag” but played a “Cashed up” version of it (in Nancy Jane Meyer’s words.)

As he chatted with the audience about an upcoming July 1st appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, some idiot fan who had already been talking too loud for some time shouted out, “Just play a song,” about the most asinine thing you can do at a Lloyd Cole show. Cole asked him to “please shut up” (though I can’t remember if he said please) and continued with his story. He said Kimmel said he could play any song he liked as long as it was “Perfect Skin.” As Cole played this song, the idiot who had been shushed danced alone by the side of the stage, briefly taunting Cole with a “shh” finger up against his mouth but was immediately pulled back by Fine Line security. (Thanks, John.)

For an encore, Cole did another of my favorites, “Undressed,” which he said, “wasn’t the smartest song to write when you’re already engaged to be married.” A cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” segued into “Lost Weekend,” and we were at the show’s end. Cole pointed out that it’s the 20th anniversary of their first album and time for a few reunion shows. So far, he’s booked shows in Glasgow and London in October. For more info, see Lloyd’s weblog.

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