Saturday, May 15, 2010
'Everybody Knows' and 'I Like', at The Tabernacle
Something rarer than hens' teeth and blue moons happened on Wednesday: at a gig in a residential corner of West London, the new songs were highlights. But then, the man performing those songs, Neil Hannon, is in himself rarer than hens' teeth and blue moons, so it figures.
This week, The Divine Comedy - as Neil Hannon only - played The Tabernacle, and while it's beautiful from the outside, (and has a delightful foyer, no complaints there) the auditorium itself does alas have the feel of a school hall. The stage is raised barely a foot off the ground and when the only performer is sitting at a piano most of the time, and therefore at chest height of the audience, well, that's not especially great except for those literally right at the front. "Chairs would have been a good idea" our host said, apologetically.
Luckily, Hannon is a warm, witty, and winning kinda guy, and the logistical problems were quickly forgotten, as he got the crowd onside with opener 'The Complete Banker' (no need to explain what that one's about), from the as-yet-unreleased Bang Goes The Knighthood. Funny and sniping, it set a high benchmark for the new songs to emulate, but in fact was out-shone by most: 'Down In The Street Below' is an atmospheric, story-telling track reminiscent of Promenade's 'When The Lights Go Out All Over Europe', and 'Have You Ever Been In Love' touching and heart-felt.
None, however, quite match the hedonistic power-pop that is 'I Like' - written, he told us, as a response to 'Everybody Knows' because he now considers its narrator 'a dick' for not just being honest with his lady-love. It has, I think, the most hummable, heart-squeezing, smile-inducing chorus Hannon has ever written, and that's saying something.
Dotted between the new songs, every album The Divine Comedy have/has released was represented, from Liberation's 'Pop Singer's Fear Of The Pollen Count', through 'Becoming More Like Alfie' and 'Mastermind' right up to 'A Lady Of A Certain Age'. Personally, it was a delight as ever to see 'Our Mutual Friend' performed live, (stripped down to piano-only it loses none of its grandeur), and 'Songs Of Love' and 'A Drinking Song' were augmented by hearty audience participation.
Hannon is a great orchestrator, but this solo show meant losing those layers of sound that help make his songs so great in order to gain space to really concentrate on the lyrics, and time for him to be a funny and charming raconteur - and that's a trade that more than paid off. Truly beautiful stuff.
Big thanks to Dean who bagged the tickets, by the way, for which I am ever-thankful; I'm sure he'll have a gig review up on his blog in due course...