An elegant man, in elegant surroundings, playing, well, elegantly. A perfect marriage for this rather wonderful evening. Whilst some may dismiss The Divine Comedy as a heritage act, that would be quite wrong. Recent single ‘Catherine The Great‘ was an adept return to form by Neil Hannon and company and the energy and vivacity coming from onstage tonight is vital.
Tip-toeing right along the edge of camp confidence, Hannon is occasionally arch and almost contemptuous in flaunting his craft. Not contemptuous of the eager crowd, but rather, the apparent ease with which performing comes to him. True or not, he, particularly, and the band as a whole have an easy charisma. You can’t fault the care the leader of the pack has for his musicians. Not often a globe mini-bar is opened up on stage and Bloody Marys made to order.
Support tonight comes from singer-songwriter Lisa O’Neill. She too, has a relaxed charm, particularly between songs and, whilst the acoustic guitar plus voice may not be saying anything notably new, it’s a quirkily attractive set. Indeed, she crops up later to duet on ‘Funny Peculiar‘ and her chirps meld with utter perfection with Hannon’s deeply honeyed, baritone croon.
Impressive croons they are too. In fact, the first thing noticeable about Neil Hannon, apart from the fact he is six inches shorter that one expects, is how rich that voice is. The material may be chock full of wry observations and dexterous turns of phrase, but most impressive is the set of lungs. Anyone who can trot out “Talking ’bout burritos and conceptual art” (on the excellent ‘Down in the Street Below‘) and make it sound poetic clearly has something going for them. It all seems so very effortless. Truly, someone at home on stage and truly someone the enthusiastic crowd adores to a man and woman.
Yet, though things touch on the vaudeville at times, costume changes, affectations and all, real emotion touches lightly upon us all. ‘Our Mutual Friend‘, with its sweeping strings – on keyboard here – is intoxicating. Perhaps that balancing act is what is most impressive. Just when you think things may tip over into music hall – how can one think anything else when the singer appears as Napoleon – there are washes of heartfelt beauty. The squeaks, squeals and whistles in the dark from the devoted bear testament to that.
By the time the entreaty to have an “indy disco” is laid forth towards the end, all bets are off. A couple wriggle out their seats and dance in each others’ arms around the top of the stairs. Others join in up and down the aisles and the normally polite venue, more usually home to ballet, is a frivolous frolic of glee. It is gentle but it is joyous and whilst the lyrics may, at times, verge on the caustic, that sense of joy never seems far away. The eyebrow – singular – may be arched, but it’s as much a celebration of language as anything else. The vicious tongue competing with the uplifting chimes of ‘Something For The Weekend‘.
Approaching this as neither a particular fan nor a detractor, there is no viable response other than to say, 1-0 to The Divine Comedy. Earlier in the evening, the question is posed, “Are we going to have a very jolly time“? Indeed we do and more than that, it is being in the impressive presence of an entirely singular talent. One who knows it, at that. And, why not? When you’re this good, it would be frightfully bad form not to acknowledge it.
The provocation may be that love is, “a waste of time”, as on a beautifully delivered ‘The Frog Princess’. Whilst appreciating the cynicism, the audience seem inclined to disagree.
A very special evening indeed.