mon 17/06/2024

The Divine Comedy, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - a pleasing pop trip through the years | reviews, news & interviews

The Divine Comedy, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - a pleasing pop trip through the years

The Divine Comedy, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - a pleasing pop trip through the years

Neil Hannon on typically witty, entertaining form

Nothing but flowers for Neil Hannon

Careful consideration is needed when leaving your seat at a Divine Comedy gig. “He’s off for a drink,” observed Neil Hannon of the audience member ambling away during a rendition of “Gin Soaked Boy”, before adding, accurately, “this song’s excellent.” Indeed it was, and a fitting closer to the first half of this leisurely, career-spanning set dedicated, mostly, to the hits.

That theme is somewhat ironic given Hannon never seemed particularly comfortable as a pop star, particularly during the height of Britpop, but here, suited and wearing shades, he seemed at ease. There was a relaxed vibe about the stage setting, which saw the frontman and a five-strong backing band placed tightly together with a few lamps dotted around them. It created a feeling, particularly in the night’s opening portion, of seeing a band casually jamming away in a studio, managing to make the spacious Edinburgh venue seem almost intimate, an atmosphere summed up during the opening “Absent Friends” when Hannon’s glass-raising gesture was replicated by many in attendance.

It helps, of course, when there are 30 years' worth of finely observed pop to select, from the jaunty “Becoming More Like Alfie” to the galloping drums that rattled along throughout “Something for the Weekend” and the yearning, wittily observed snapshot of “Everybody Knows (Except You)”. Hannon himself seemed to be rather enjoying wandering down memory lane, lying flat out onstage in faux dramatic fashion at one point, before cheerfully cutting shapes during the inevitable good time roll of “National Express” that closed the main set in sing-a-long down the indie club night fashion.

By that point, the crowd had been encouraged to leave their seats and cluster around the stage, which many took up cheerfully. Perhaps that feeling could have been accomplished earlier, and the decision to split the set into two halves of 10 songs each, with a 15-minute intermission, did not help that cause. It felt like the gig’s momentum had to be started up all over again, and the rather lethargic “Norman and Norma” and a version of “Love What You Do” that droned a little too much both missed the mark, creating a slight lull.

Still, there was satisfaction in watching the excellent band glide through numbers with ease, bassist Simon Little in particular enjoying sashaying away in the background, whether on electric or double bass, while Ian Watson’s accordion playing brought in further texture. However it remained Hannon’s show, both with dry wit and a commanding voice that soared out when needed. That humour was in evidence when trying to deal with an audience member’s shouted query about if he was drinking a pint of wine (he was), and when he went to dedicate a number to a couple celebrating their anniversary, only to reveal he couldn’t remember one of their names.

It’s unlikely the couple involved would be too disappointed though, given that the baroque stylings of “The Certainty of Chance”, a zesty “I Like” and the piano boogie of “How Can You Leave Me On My Own” provided reason to celebrate by themselves, while a sweeping version of new track “The Best Mistakes” showed that although the years are going by, Hannon’s skills as an adroit pop writer remain in abundance.

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