London Camden Palace
After consistently spoiling us with an orchestra last year, the Rock! version of [B]THE DIVINE COMEDY[/B] seems such an indelicate thing tonight...
Well, he hasn’t dressed down for the occasion. Such has been Neil Hannon’s recent desire to distance himself from his overweening fop persona, you half expect him to saunter onstage in tracky bottoms and a T-shirt. Or possibly even a toga: for where ‘Casanova’ and ‘A Short Album About Love’ starred a misogynistic dandy and a soppy git respectively, the songs on ‘Fin De Sihcle’ see Neil slipping quietly out of character and into something altogether more uncomfortable: the garb of the philosopher.
As it is, he’s in a tidy grey Gilbert & George three-piece and shades, still affecting the minimal stage moves of a cultured Thunderbird: a little flick of the wrist here, a slight toss of the head there. It’s clearly going to take more than a bit of pre-millennial tension to take the camp out of the boy. And while matters of grave human import – the Troubles, the impending Apocalypse, the prettiness of Scandinavia – are aired this evening, the most urgent affair on the agenda remains having a jolly splendid time before the curtain falls.
So the band pump out ‘Sweden’ and ‘Generation Sex’, all oompah and ooh-er respectively (at least until the words sink in). And if Wolverhampton doesn’t know all the words quite yet, it’s not for lack of application: each song off the new album is greeted like a long lost soul mate bearing gifts of cash. Even ‘National Express’ – on record, an execrable pastiche of a Divine Comedy song – is a veritable hoot: the “[I]ba-ba-ba-ba[/I]”s being clinically irresistible in a large group. “Now wasn’t that good fun?” purrs Neil afterwards. Well, yes it was. And yet…
After consistently spoiling us with an orchestra last year, the Rock! version of The Divine Comedy seems such an indelicate thing tonight. ‘Europop’ sounds tired and out of place, while ‘Commuter Love’ amounts to soft rock with airs above its station. Meanwhile, a graceful song like ‘The Certainty Of Chance’ moves along leadenly, where it should be moving us to exquisite tears.
But – hey ho! – who cares if we’re all gonna die anyway? ‘Here Comes The Flood’ jauntily details our impending doom by meteorite, locust plague and self-induced calamity, while an astonishing cover of ‘Radioactivity’ makes Kraftwerk’s black-humoured original positively thrum with dread. It’s easily the most riveting five minutes of the gig, both because no-one sees it coming and because its honeyed horror so gels with Hannon’s doomy concerns of late. The band’s guitars, too, regain their rightful place by transforming some of the iciest proto-techno into a lava flow of sound.
After this, the Comedy can do little wrong. We get ‘Sunrise’, The One About The Troubles, for a final, rapturous encore. It’s nothing like the issues-y bludgeon of a Manics song. Powered by a xylophone and sung by Hannon as though possessed by the spirit of Jeff Buckley, it feels like a hymn, albeit a profoundly humanist one. If one were feeling poncey, one might be tempted to say it was Hannon’s [I]Guernica[/I]. As it is, we’ll take a cue from Neil Hannon, note its elegance, and leave it at that.