Causing a Commotion

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions found success with their 1984 debut album, “Rattlesnakes.” Since then, Cole has continually reimagined his career.

Born in Buxton, England, Cole moved to New York to reinvent himself after a series of albums and tours with the Commotions. Arizona fans will get the rare chance to see a retrospective of his career during his show at the Musical Instrument Museum on Thursday, February 13. 

“I haven’t been to Phoenix in ages,” Cole says. “I think I’ve only played in Phoenix two or three times ever. I remember playing there in 1994 in a club and there was a Plexiglass wall down the middle separating the 21 and olders from the younger ones.”

Cole doesn’t know what to expect with the MIM, but he’s hoping they’ll have “old synthesizers they might let me play with.”

Seriously, the tour’s title is pretty telling: “From Rattlesnakes to Guesswork.” It’s just Cole and a guitar playing songs from 1983 through today.

“They are the songs I think are strong enough to stand up without a band or orchestra behind them,” Cole says. “I’ve been lucky to find out most of the songs I’ve wanted to play are strong enough.

“There have been times when you take the production out and there’s not really much of a song there. It doesn’t happen very often.”

Knowing he hasn’t played Phoenix in decades, his set list will be different from other cities’ dates. It will include the hits.

“The thing that is better about the solo show compared to a duo or a band show is if I decide to do something on the spur of the moment, I can,” he says. “Other shows have to be rehearsed. With a band, you can’t do stuff like that. You need to have a set list. If somebody in Phoenix yells out for a certain song and I know how to play it, I will.”

Cole admits he’s a little down his 2019 album, “Guesswork,” didn’t fare as well in the United States as it did in the United Kingdom. But the collection—which includes an appearance by the Commotions’ Neil Clark and Blair Cowan—has sold better than his previous records have in the United States.

“That’s not saying very much,” he adds. “There hasn’t been the media exposure I was expecting to get. There are probably a lot of fans out there who don’t know the record’s even out.

“The model for making music these days is the opposite of the model we had when we started. We went on tour to promote records and made money from selling records. We now need an excuse to go on tour. Touring is where we make our money. The add-on, these days, is when I go on tour, I usually have my current record for sale at the concerts. I sell a lot of them and it enables me to get new music into the people’s hands, which is important to me.”

He adds that this can have a chain reaction.

“If they like it and they enjoy the concert, there’s a good chance they’ll come back,” he says. “If they like it, they might share it with their social-media friends. When you spend so much energy making the record, it can be deflating to realize you’re selling more concert tickets than albums.

“I’m using the concerts to get the music into people’s hands—even if it’s not profitable. The most important thing for me is for people to have the music.”   

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