LIVE REVIEW: The Divine Comedy at Hammersmith Apollo, London

The Divine Comedy at Hammersmith Apollo, London
© Bernie McAllister

It is hard to believe that this band from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland celebrated their third decade as a musical outfit this year. Whilst a knighthood may not be within Neil Hannon’s reach, his unique blend of musicality is as popular as ever; after all, his last two LP’s, including this years’ Office Politics, made it into the UK top ten.

Whilst Hannon opened by turning back the clock to 1993 with “Europop” from Liberation; it was Office Politics that was the dominant theme of this live performance; eleven of the twenty-four songs played were taken from this LP. Furthermore, the stage was decked out like a modern open plan office, with a desk, computer, and a lamp as well as “in/out” doors. As an analogue clock was fixed upon the stage beginning at 9 o’clock and went forward as the set progressed. The new song, “Queuejumper”, with its “Gin Soaked Boy” catchy feel-good factor followed “Europop” perfectly.

It is hard to believe that The Divine Comedy’s Fin de Siècle LP, which went gold, is now twenty years old. Playing the first single that was released from this LP, “Generation Sex”, it sounded as catchy and infectious as it did. “Generation Sex” has not dated one iota. Hannon and his six-piece band also played “Commuter Love”, where the haunting strings and bass drums made the lyrics “She doesn’t know I exist” even more melancholy. Naturally, The Divine Comedy also played their highest charting single, “National Express”. The Apollo was ecstatic to relive The Divine Comedy’s commercial peak.

Thirty years of experience has definitely served the band well. With the Fin de Siècle material, Hannon left it virtually unaltered, as he did with many other favourites including “Absent Friends” and “Something for the Weekend”, but for others; Hannon successfully reworked them. For instance, the acoustic strumming on “Come Home Billy Bird” was almost wholeheartedly substituted for funk guitar with guitar solos. Experimentation is something Hannon evidently took face on with relish for Office Politics, “The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Sale”, which followed “Come Home Billy Bird”, saw resemblances to Aphex Twin (albeit with significantly less bass). “Office Politics” also revealed glorious experimentation with Pet Shop Boys, Sparks and Kraftwerk influences, pounding organ and Ian Dury style storytelling. “You’ll never work in this town again” impressed with its Spaghetti Western theme music amidst Latin brass.

The new material from Office Politics proved to be more than a leap in EDM innovation, it proved to be lyrically inspiring and rouse the senses. For instance “When the Working Day is Done”, illustrating the challenges of modern working patterns was as powerful as John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”. At forty-eight, Neil Hannon is proving he is not experiencing a midlife crisis but continues to be an innovator, who is continuously finding new ways to elate his audiences’ experiences.

Funk and disco also featured on Office Politics, and at this point, the band put on cone party hats (Neil’s was yellow) to play “The Life and Soul of the Party”, which collated the best of seventies disco, Prince’s funk guitar and Isaac Hayes’ “Flash” amidst several high rising balloons. Politics also indirectly came up after they played “Indie Disco”. Hannon said although he hadn’t removed Morrissey from the lyrics, “Next to the poster of Morrissey with a bunch of flowers”; Neil went on to dedicate the next song, “I Like” “to all strangers” who have come to England. The applause Hannon received equalled that to when he had just finished playing “National Express”.

After the twenty-first song, “Phillip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company” (from Office Politics), the office furniture and “in/out” doors were removed and an encore followed.  The band then returned to playout with an acoustic set where the band opening with “Your Daddy’s Car”. The bands’ pleasant harmonies sounded like a barbershop group. “Songs of Love (theme from Father Ted) followed and “Tonight we Fly” ended the show.

With over thirty years of experience, appearing in a colourful suit and large white trainers, Hannon perfected the balance of demonstrating himself as a superb singer, song writer and performer without taking himself too seriously. He also showed that he still had something to say and had something new to play to his fan base and beyond. Very few artists could pull off plugging elven songs from their most recent LP without emitting a slight aroma of self-indulgence. There appeared to be no scent or trail to pick up.

There was great humour too. Hannon claimed to be nervous playing to a London audience, and to ease his nerves, Hannon said, he was going to pretend that he was playing to a Nottingham crowd. The Apollo found it hilarious when Hannon, after finishing a song, would appropriately and frequently say, “Thank you, Nottingham”.  Apart from not playing material form Regeneration, this The Divine Comedy performance was flawless and impervious to criticism.

2 Comments

  1. I loved the show albeit I felt Hammersmith, which is usually spot on for sound, let both TDC and the support act down for the first hour of music in regards to volume. After ‘Come Home Billy Bird’ though the sound was spot on and the show proceeded to be absolutely brilliant. The performances of the quieter acoustic-heavy numbers were simply sublime. ‘I’m a Stranger Here’ was a major highlight for me.

  2. The best live act I have ever seen, truly flawless and brilliant. I felt as if I was being taken on a tour of Hannon’s mind and being pushed in directions I might not have previously enjoyed “The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Sale”, but they only complemented the well known songs and added to the depth of the performance. I want to go back and do it all again, it was over too quickly to take everything in, hopefully Neil and his amazing band will be touring again next year.

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