Taking requests can be a risky business. There’s always a chance the audience will ask for something so old and obscure that you have trouble remembering how it goes. This was the situation facing Neil Hannon as the crowd at the refurbished Roundhouse in London displayed an admirably exhaustive knowledge of his back catalogue. “That’s a B-side,” he fretted over one choice. “And we haven’t played it since last December.”
Before retreating with relief to the setlist, Hannon made an abortive attempt at another little known track – Lost Property – but this also dwindled quickly when it was clear the people in the front row were more familiar with the lyrics than the people on the stage. In anyone else’s hands this could have been a bit of a shambles. Fortunately, in addition to a baritone that can make you weak at the knees, the founding (and occasionally only) member of the Divine Comedy also has a solid sense of irony and a deft stage presence, and the episode instead became a comic highlight of the evening.
Equally memorable, though for very different reasons, a rendition of current single A Lady Of A Certain Age managed to retain its poignancy in a live setting – and proved again that though he was often tarred with the novelty pop tag during his band’s mid-ninties brush with chart success, there are few pop lyricists as eloquent and adaptable as Hannon.
Older numbers Alfie, Generation Sex and Something For The Weekend kept the mood from getting too downbeat and pleased the audience no end (particularly the two strapping chaps in front of me, both well over six feet tall, who greeted each song with raised glasses and a series of impressively theatrical hand gestures). An incongruous cover version of Raspberry Beret was welcomed almost as warmly.
Hannon is clearly a man who likes his props. He wryly thumbed through a porn mag during To Die A Virgin (later flung into the crowd) and gleefully lit up a cigarette during one of the more dramatic numbers – despite, or perhaps because, of the Roundhouse’s strictly enforced no-smoking policy. There were glitches, but these were mainly technical; the lighting was really quite poor (with some of the houselights remaining on throughout) and the acoustics seemed rather fuzzy at the start of the evening with Hannon’s distinctive voice buried too deeply in the mix.
These sound issuses were long gone by the time of the encore, when a brass section were brought on to add a liitle orchestral flourish to the proceedings – up until then, for a Divine Comedy gig, things had been positively minimal. And though they came on stage to a fanfare (a nod to new album Victory For The Comic Muse), they finished things with a moving performance of Sunrise, a treat for those who didn’t run off so quickly into the Camden night that they missed it.