Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Divine Comedy @ Royal Festival Hall, London

17 June 2002

The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon (Photo: Kevin Westenberg)

Neil Hannon’s appearance at David Bowie‘s Meltdown was always going to be interesting, following line-up changes to The Divine Comedy late last year. What would this most chameleonesque of musicians be able to create as the latest incarnation of the band? Once again Hannon proved that his band is well named – at times comedic and at times divinely sublime. With long hair and scruffy clothes, there he was in charge of a band of classical musicians.

For our delectation this evening we were presented with Neil on keyboard, supported by Ivor on guitar and Rob on percussion, with a string quartet. The line-up immediately recalled what is for many The Divine Comedy’s finest hour, the beautiful Promenade album. So it was to prove as, with music books open and Hannon keeping the band tight, we launched into Tonight We Fly. The audience was instantly transfixed.

Musically, Neil Hannon was every bit the contradiction he always has been. He can do pensive as well as amusing, covers of David Bowie songs as well as a song called Come Home Billy Bird. He’s been a frequent visitor to the singles chart, but musically he proved again that he’s happy on Radio 3 too. A plethora of completely new songs were aired, all sounding musically more complicated than his recent output. The Happy Goth, with reference to The Empire Strikes Back, raised titters.

Much affection was lavished upon the seven-piece when older tracks were aired in the new format. Something For The Weekend, better known as The Woodshed Song, worked a treat – although Generation Sex was awkward. But it was the tracks from Promenade and Liberation that reminded us of the huge talent of this tiny Irishman. Timewatch, with the quartet in encore, was elegant to the point of perfection. And for Regeneration, last heard with a full band, Hannon took centre stage with a guitar. It was melancholy, but lyrically as good as anything he’s done. But as Hannon launched into Postman Pat we thought we’d heard everything. Then his roadie gave us an impromptu performance of the Tweenies theme.

With banter about the World Cup and the Hannons’ newborn baby too, a set of inspired music and lyrics was just part of this truly divine comedy. All hail.

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