It had been a long week – Glasgow, Cambridge, Oxford, Norwich and now home to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and as Neil put it, “four tiers of happy smiling faces”. The band certainly did seem pleased to be home, but it’s a good thing they have a week off before their Portugal dates because boy, did they look tired, and none more so than Neil Hannon. As the planes of his face get sharper he’s all cheekbones, and those big eyes just get bigger. It’s rare to see Neil looking more shattered than Bryan still, being a rock star was never supposed to be easy. And there’s little doubt, The Divine Comedy have become a proper rock band.
It’s been fascinating watching the development of the current live show from it’s birth in Scotland a year ago, through definite teething problems in January, to a triumphant coming of age. The set at SBE was identical to the excellent Cambridge gig, and it’s a great mixture of old and new, rocky and quirky. It’s also a long set (over 90 minutes). The capacity crowd in Shepherds Bush appreciated the energy and responded accordingly. There could still be some fine tuning – for example the acoustic version of Life on Earth doesn’t work particularly well, and I still believe Mastermind should be speeded up – but overall this is now a great show.
Aficionados still welcome the oldies with more rapturous applause than the new material, but with all the media attention being paid to Regeneration, there will soon be many new fans for whom Regeneration is the baseline. They will be in for a very pleasant surprise: not only are all the songs on the new album better live, but they’ll also discover that Neil does still have a fabulous voice, even if it isn’t obvious from the recorded version. That was especially clear in the last song, The Beauty Regime. Rather dull on the album, I appreciated it for the first time when Neil gave it his all.
While Neil still tends to get most of the attention (despite the new democratic approach we’ve heard so much about) the other thing that now stands out in live performance is just how well all the members work together. There can’t be too many bands with such an array of musical talent (how many lead guitarists play recorder? Ivor Talbot does it with aplomb). Joby we all know is a musical genius, but it’s impressive to see Pinkie, Bryan and Rob switching and changing instruments with smooth precision. Miggy just concentrates on being one of the best drummers around. What more could anyone ask.