Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Divine Comedy + Bell X1, Somerset House - 6/7/06

I haven't done a proper review-type post for a while, so here goes.

There are some nights which just call out for beautiful music and the 6th July in London town was one of those nights. Clear skies, a cool breeze after days of blistering heat, and the grand but intimate surroundings of Somerset House - everything was in place for a stunning gig, the only left which could disappoint was the music. But on this night, there was no chance. The Divine Comedy put on such a good show that it'd be easy for me to skip straight onto the moment Neil Hannon came strutting onto the stage, shades on, mic in hand... but that would be to do the support act, Bell X1 a complete disservice.

Perpetually on the brink of The Big Time, Irish band Bell X1 do guitar power pop that should, if there were any justice, be being played to death on Radio 1 right about now. Perhaps luckily, though, they've yet to reach those dizzy heights, and are instead happily chugging along with a massively loyal fanbase who tonight sing every word back at lead singer Paul Noonan, who jerks around the stage in a suit sharp enough to make Mr. Hannon jealous. They are, undoubtedly, at their best when they're bashing out an up-tempo stomper, but unfortunately the shadow of former frontman Damien Rice remains, and all too often they 'take it down', and lapse into acoustic mediocrity. It's not terrible by any means, but a shame when you know they can write a song as stunning as Flame - which should have got them that top 10 hit and is an anthem of Take Me Out proportions.

And so onto the headliners. When the builders of Somerset House were putting the finishing touches to this stately building, they probably weren't entirely aware that what they had just created was the perfect venue for the Divine Comedy to play in 200 years time, but that indeed was the case. Neil Hannon, now writing alone but joined by a regular group of musicians when on tour, is the epitome of louche, dignified cool, and as he comes down the stairs onstage, the smile on his face shows us that he knows he's come home. He may be NME's undeserved whipping boy, but to the audience tonight he's clearly a hero, and the opening track, To Die A Virgin, is greeted with cheers normally reserved for an old favourite despite it only being available for a few weeks on the new album Victory For The Comic Muse. But then its hardly surprising, because this is a song that could easily become a setlist regular - funny, clever, as always, and with a horn section to die for. In fact, many of the highlights came from the new album, especially A Lady Of A Certain Age, which sympathetically describes the twilight years of a former starlet. There was plenty to please old fans too, though, with Generation Sex, National Express, Something For The Weekend, a rousing version of Charge. On the last tour, DC surprised and entertained fans with an ingenious cover of the Queens Of The Stone Age hit No One Knows, but this was at least matched by the inclusion of a bit of Nelly Furtado's Maneater into tonight's proceedings. Surely only Neil can bring class to the lines 'She's a maneater, make you buy cars, make you cut cards'.

So the setlist was great and Hannon was in fine voice (the falsetto was spot on every time), but somehow tonight was about more than just the music. What made the gig so special was how evident it was that Hannon loved every single second, and all us gig-goers know that that there's nothing more fulfilling. Every day we are affected by the music that some distant genius has created, and seeing that, just for once, we've had a positive effect on that very person - it's a beautiful thing. A little bit of that debt has been repaid. When Neil Hannon beams, and evidently humbled, says 'I'm so happy... You're my friends, aren't you?', well, it's hard not to feel a just a little proud.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Beautiful review! Am SOOOO envious!

I saw them in the wonderfully intimate Wulfrun Hall many years ago and they were just soooo lovely. He's such a charmer! And when that voice of his is on-song: man, its a dream.

Deano said...

Well figure me jealous. Knew I should have gone but alas my regular DC gig-going companion is in the wrong country at the moment. And I did see them in the afformented Wulfrun Hall just a month ago so I'll not be too envious.

Except they played Lucy.

Damn you. :)

To Die A Virgin is going to be the next single by the way, out in mid-august.

AnnaWaits said...

So I hear, and am very glad of it. What a song.