Review // Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy bring their trademark tragicomic musicality to Colston Hall

Britpop's most curious gent and his troupe brought their theatrical live show to Bristol

Frontman Neil Hannon and his troupe of musically badass accountants served up a sweet and intimate show at the Colston Hall, when The Divine Comedy brought their Foreverland tour to Bristol this November. Full of TDC’s trademark tragicomic and tongue-in-cheek musicality, the evening was energetic yet laidback; unhindered yet carefully curated, with well over 20 years of chamber pop material to dig into.

the evening was energetic yet laidback; unhindered yet carefully curated, with well over 20 years of chamber pop material to dig into

Led by Hannon (the only original and consistent member of the group, and its creative force), TDC did what they have always done best. Namely, entangling literary and historical references with a send-up of social archetypes and everyman melodrama.

TDC did what they have always done best. Namely, entangling literary and historical references with a send-up of social archetypes and everyman melodrama

Unexpectedly for a band still plugging their eleventh studio album, their opener was Down In The Street Below, a musical-style tune from 2010’s Bang Goes The Knighthood, the record whose artwork made me a TDC fan. With Hannon donning his winter coat and scarf as if in situ (or having walked right out of Casablanca), the track was sleepy and romantically hued. That is, aside from the mentions of ‘phallic towers’ and ‘knocking back the egos at the cocktail bar’. But then, it is The Divine Comedy we’re talking about.

Second song, To Die a Virgin (from 2006’s Victory for the Comic Muse), struck of Berlin-era Bowie in the vocals and was a bit Beauty And The Beast-like in the music.

Then it was back to theatre with heyday hits such as Something For the Weekend and Alfie

Then it was back to theatre with heyday hits such as Something For the Weekend and Alfie. Both sent the ‘sweet but quiet’ crowd into gleeful spin, with Alfie’s bridge fittingly played out on a glittery gold guitar.

The absolute highlight of the night was Our Mutual Friend, an often-cited track from the outfit’s Absent Friends album (2004). This crushingly relatable tale of finding a spark with someone, only to later find her in the arms of a mutual acquaintance, is a valid soundtrack for weeping to. That is, until Hannon, who had long-begun acting out the lyrics, planted himself face-down in the aisle while the orchestral bridge played out.

Close behind was To The Rescue, easily the most chewable song from Foreverland, dedicated to Hannon’s girlfriend and fellow Irish singer-songwriter, Cathy Davey, who also duets on the album. A straight-up love song, for once.

Let’s face it, National Express was always going to be lurking somewhere in this gig’s denouement. Yet, pleasingly, TDC rounded off the night with Songs Of Love (of Father Ted fame) and, finally, Tonight We Fly, which BBC Radio Ulster’s Stuart Bailie once named the ‘compulsory end’ to a Divine Comedy show.

Those who see them as too twee on record for their tastes will be converted by seeing them live

The Divine Comedy cut an intriguing figure in their commercial prime, and remain a welcome musical palate cleanser in what can often be a feast of grinding popsugar. Those who see them as too twee on record for their tastes will be converted by seeing them live. With Hannon’s infectious, good-humoured showmanship, aptitude for earworms and spinning yarns showing no sign of fizzling, I advise keeping eyes wide for new material in 2018.

Words by Daisy Blacklock

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