Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Divine Comedy @ Somerset House, London

17 July 2010

The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon (Photo: PR)

To the strains of The Avengers theme, a dark-suited and bowler-hatted Neil Hannon strides on stage, umbrella in hand, takes a seat at the piano and launches into The Complete Banker, a timely and tuneful rage against the money machine (sample lyric: “Money makes the world go round and round and down the drain”) and a perfect primer for what The Divine Comedy creator does best: bright and upbeat on the surface, but with a jet black underbelly.

Part of the Somerset House Summer Series, this solo show is both a showcase for Hannon’s new album Bang Goes The Knighthood and a chance to take a tour on his now sizeable back catalogue. Despite the rather grand surroundings (there is at least one cravat in the audience and a lot of people sipping red wine), this is a stripped back affair that sees Hannon going it alone with just grand piano and guitar.

It’s a most agreeable setting. The chill of the previous evening is absent, the sky is a Constable cloud study and the surrounding neo-classical pillars are bathed in purple light. Losing the hat early on and the tie not soon afterwards, Hannon stays on stage for near-on two hours, but there are few lulls in what is a very enjoyable performance. Many of the new songs have bedded in quickly and recent single At The Indie Disco is given a very warm reception, particularly when Hannon segues briefly into the opening chug of New Order‘s Blue Monday. When A Man Cries is properly wrenching and on the opposite end of the emotional scale, while Can You Stand Upon One Leg, which crops up in the encore, has become interactive. At one point, audience members are invited to share their (pretty bad) jokes with everyone else.

There are continual detours through older material, from the poignant and almost novelistic A Lady Of A Certain Age, dipping back to The Popsinger’s Fear Of The Pollen Count and the inexplicably popular National Express (a lazy song by Hannon’s standards).

Though there isn’t much room for between-song banter, Hannon is as ever charismatic showman, witty and urbane, even when doing something as mundane as rooting through his briefcase for our amusement – a briefcase which incidentally contains a packet of Haribo (hurled to a delighted audience member), a book by Bill Bryson and an ’emergency’ pipe.

There are a few lyrical wibbles with the new material, especially towards the end of what is a lengthy set. “It’s been a long night,” Hannon says sheepishly as he trips over a line, and matters aren’t helped by rogue pieces of cork in his piano-top glass of white wine. But he pulls it together for the verbally acrobatic Jiggery Pokery – borrowed from side project The Duckworth Lewis Method – before finishing on the decidedly downbeat Down On The Street Below. As everyone files politely towards the exit, there’s a definite sense that the audience would have been content to hang around far longer.

The Divine Comedy played: The Complete Banker, Assume The Perpendicular, Everybody Knows, Your Daddy’s Car, The Popsinger’s Fear Of The Pollen Count, National Express, If…, Neapolitan Girl, Becoming More Like Alfie, Snowball In Negative, At The Indie Disco, Time To Pretend, Don’t Look Down, A Lady Of Certain Age, Songs Of Love, When A Man Cries, Have You Ever Been In Love, Our Mutual Friend Encore: Can You Stand Upon One Leg, I Like, Jiggery Pokery, Down On The Street Below

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