The Divine Comedy in Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on February 26th 2017
One of the essential accoutrements of the distinguished gentleman, it’s the ornate bar globe that first catches the eye as we take our pews in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, occupying stage front and with a spotlight all of its own. Its presence is no surprise given that tonight it’s The Divine Comedy, helmed by mainstay Neil Hannon, who occupy the cossetted surroundings in the docklands. Hannon has always cut a dapper, mildly eccentric figure through his tenure with his main band and cricket-fixated side-project, The Duckworth Lewis Method; a songwriter with a flair for the theatrical and the funny peculiar. A swanky drinks cabinet is par for the course.
Their eleventh album, ‘Foreverland’, came out late last year, and tonight is the final show of fifty-six, a tour tonight’s support act claims is the most adventurous she’s been on. Lisa O’Neill walks onstage without a word and fires straight into an acapella The Galway Shawl, signalling its end with a stamped foot and a “sin é”. “It’s quiet, I’m scared” she jokes to a still filling room, as her band join her for the rest of the performance. O’Neill’s set is interspersed with lengthy spoken intros, self-contained biographical musings that feed into the songs – the charity skydive that inspired Pothole In The Sky, or pondering the effects of magic mushrooms on the sheep of Connemara. We would be as content listening to her reflections on life and wildlife as much as her distinctive voice, and with John Martyn’s Run Honey Run her quietly mesmerising set draws to a close all too soon.
What to expect, then, from Hannon & Co. at this stage in their career, twenty-eight years and eleven records in – certainly not for Hannon to walk into the semi-circle of the band’s stage set-up dressed in full Napolean regalia, but that’s what transpires. “It took many months. We rule Europe now,” he informs us before Napoleon Complex. “I’m going to lose the hat. The hat is silly” he insists, brandishing a recorder throughout The Frog Princess and eventually following through on the threat after the dramatic pause that signals the song’s latter stages.
Humour is inherent when Hannon commands a stage – he’s well aware that the My Lovely Horse heckles are never far from someone’s lips, and sure enough, a gleeful request late in the set is met with a polite but firm ‘no’ (although Father Ted fans are satisfied with Songs Of Love, with the added bonus of Hannon playing the main theme on a meowing cat organ). “You all seem very comfortable in your lovely comfy chairs” is his gentle invitation for the crowd to loosen up, and things certainly get seem to get that bit heavier over the guitar solo of Bad Ambassador.
Hannon exits the stage as The Certainty Of Chance winds down, leaving the band to move ominously on with the song. Suddenly there’s a change in tone as it runs directly into an altogether more jaunty The Complete Banker, with the singer now suited and booted in city gent attire, bowler hat and brolly intact. Descending into the stalls during Our Mutual Friend, he sings from an empty seat beside one woman before collapsing in the aisle at the song’s “we fell unconscious” line.
The promise of the bar globe is fulfilled in due course – Hannon drops the needle on a portable turntable sitting on an amp, opens the drinks cabinet and serves booze to his band mates. “This is the hardest part of the show” he says, mounting a high stool with a glass of wine in each hand, before bringing Lisa O’Neill back on for a lovely Funny Peculiar. While Something For The Weekend proves one of the more raucous numbers, it’s the faithful sojourn into New Order’s Blue Monday in the middle of At The Indie Disco that proves one of the more unexpected highlights.
The set proper ends with National Express, before two encores close things off. One would probably have done, in fairness – momentum seems to lag by encore No. 2, but it’s the last show of the tour, and both band and audience seem to want to maximise the experience. You can’t blame either, really – there’s a lot of fun to be had at a Divine Comedy show, and everyone got their money’s worth on this tour’s full stop.