Lloyd Cole has been making meticulously literate music for two decades, balanced in recent years by a warmth that seldom seeped into his work with his first band, the Commotions. At this solo acoustic gig, the Scottish expatriate struck a fine balance between heart and head, tossing in some offhandedly skillful guitar work along the way.
Cole drew much of the perf’s material from “Music in a Foreign Language,” the first of three new discs he plans to release this year, but sprinkled in enough career-spanning tunes — some cleverly, radically reworked — to satisfy the request-calling aud.
It was an uphill battle, given the tropical atmosphere inside the venue — with enough heat that Cole, performing seated, needed a full wipe-down at virtually every break. Nevertheless, he managed to maintain a dry humor, pausing at one point to ask that early departures “tell me if it’s the music that’s making you leave.”
Cole opened with a stark, partly Francophone version of “Song of the French Partisan,” popularized in North America by Leonard Cohen. Later in the set, he nodded again to one of his most apparent influences by taking on a pair of Cohen’s own compositions. The singer’s baritone painted “Famous Blue Raincoat” in appropriately dejected tones, while the detached sensuality of “Chelsea Hotel” segued nicely into Cole’s similarly themed “Lost Weekend.”
Perf wasn’t entirely given over to brow furrowing, however. Cole chopped and channeled the once-slurry “My Bag” into a Johnny Cash-inflected spasm of cocky wit and afforded West Coast sensibilities a not-so-gentle tweak via the jaundiced “Late Night, Early Town.”
The latter was the most resonant of the new songs Cole showcased here, although the murder ballad “My Other Life” packed an emotional punch, cushioned somewhat by the lush arrangement of its recorded version. Cole shied away from such directness in his grumpy young man days, but maturity has, it seems, put him in touch with his inner true romantic.
Lloyd Cole will play McCabe’s in Santa Monica on June 26.