While not to everyone’s tastes, there’s one thing you can’t dispute when it comes to Neil Hannon: the man knows how to put on a show. The Divine Comedy’s latest album is Foreverland, and the ever-changing outfit and their enigmatic frontman hit the Sage last week, bringing with them an energy and vibrancy that captures the eternally youthful spirit implied by the album’s title.
“Honey-voiced Hannon brought vivacity and warmth to songs old and new, showing only about twenty of his fourty-six years in a vibrant, youthful and thoroughly energetic performance.”
Touring alongside them is Irish solo singer/songwriter Lisa O’Neill, who led in with a charming and folksy vibe, bringing a great attitude and a relaxed, humorous atmosphere to the opening. When the band themselves appeared, honey-voiced Hannon brought vivacity and warmth to songs old and new, showing only about twenty of his fourty-six years in a vibrant, youthful and thoroughly energetic performance.
Beginning with some fan favourites from 2010’s Bang Goes The Knighthood, the gig initially took us through highlights from The Divine Comedy’s long run, with a costume change in the middle to better embody the aesthetic of Foreverland – with a wry smile on his face, Neil marched back on stage dressed as Napoleon, and launched into ‘Sweden’ with military enthusiasm. This theatricality was consistent throughout the evening; during a brief interval, the veteran frontman cracked open a bar globe and poured drinks for the band, dancing his way around the stage with Bloody Marys (Mary’s? Maries? Now there’s a hard drink to pluralise) and glasses of wine as they bounced lounge music beats from drums to bass, etc. If there was one thing to take away from this performance, it was that nearly three decades in the game don’t seem to have affected Hannon at all; he sang beautifully and tirelessly, with no disparity whatsoever between the sweet, tragic lamentation of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and the effervescent finale rising to a rainbow-coloured performance of ‘Tonight We Fly’ that irresistibly conjured everyone from their seats.
Any criticism to be had might be fairly directed at a crowd which was sometimes lacklustre, sometimes outright obnoxious. Increasingly drunken voices behind me couldn’t seem to stop themselves screaming and crying out between every song, as if anyone there gave a shit what they had to say. The band rose above it, but it still visibly irritated everyone present – who even does that? Additionally, the absence of violins just about crippled a couple of their more string-dependent songs: ‘A Lady of a Certain Age’ lives and dies on them, and the synthesizer was not an elegant replacement.
“Nearly three decades in the game don’t seem to have affected Hannon at all.”
Still, none of this stood in the way of a great evening, with some old favourites in there as well as some songs I think I’ll be listening to a lot in coming weeks. The Divine Comedy have a knack for earworms, and their performance at the Sage has burrowed itself in deep.