Published Jun 01, 2004For some reason, the much anticipated return of Lloyd Cole revolved around the rumour that his Rattlesnakes-era Commotions were coming with him. So the discovery of chairs placed along the floor of Lee's Palace came as some surprise. Opener Dave Derby (Negatives, ex-Dambuster, Cole collaborator) ambled onto the lonely stage, half apologetic to the noisy room for his low-key material, and delivered his pound of flesh, sounding not unlike a similarly grumbling version of Lloyd himself. In short order, Lloyd took to the stage, sans Commotions, armed only with an acoustic guitar and looking his usual debonair self, give or take a shave (this guy would look good camping). In traditional Cole style, he wasn't happy. It took only a quick run through of "Music In A Foreign Language" and "Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?" to realise that more than the Commotions were missing. His Lloydness was quick to apologise for his severe state of sickness, his vocal range depleted by a crippling cold. As he ran through jewels from his latest release, Music In A Foreign Language, and a rich sampling of his back catalogue, the audience was quick to appreciate the chance to gain intimate insights into a Commotions-free Cole and his exceptional craftsmanship. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, the calibre of his songwriting received the ultimate acid test one-on-one, song-by-song until the point was made that it mattered little what notes Cole couldn't hit. With Cole as balladeer, his sophisticated songs, reduced to their basic elements, remained every bit as captivating and powerful as their slick session-produced counterparts. Like the intimate, low-key cast of Foreign Language, this was Cole at his most hauntingly melodic, if not terminally hypnotic, phlegm notwithstanding. Long considered the poster boy for melancholia, Cole broke with tradition as he reassured us, in his intro to "Unhappy Song," that he loved his life, his wife and family. He is Mr. Malcontent no more. Highlights included "Lost Weekend," "My Other Life," "Don't Look Back" and, from the encore, "2cv" and "Undressed." Cole also displayed deft guitar skills throughout, especially on songs like "No More Love Songs" and, all in all, managed to raise quite a commotion all by his lonesome.