Neil Hannon was suffering from a heavy cold when the Divine Comedy played the last of a three-night run at the London Palladium last Thursday night. However if not for his regular jokes about the ailment and regular sips of whisky – poured from a bottle inside an antique globe drinks cabinet, naturally – you would never know that he probably wasn’t having as much fun on stage as he and his band made it look.
It feels as though the Divine Comedy are the quintessential band for this venue. Hannon took to the stage in full Napoleon regalia and, midway through the show, switched to a gentleman banker’s costume for ‘The Complete Banker’ and the title track from its album, Bang Goes the Knighthood.
The band’s theatricality seems tailor-made for such an ornate venue. Watched by Gigwise from a plush box to the side of the stage, Hannon serves drinks to the band from the aforementioned globe Earlier he had used it – along with a prop cane – to add a vaudeville flourish to ‘Catherine the Great’, the lead single from Foreverland, their wonderful latest album.
It feels almost natural, then, when the band enters into an impromptu sidebar of music themes: Black Beauty gets sung and Grandstand is performed on a French organ – you don’t get that from Adele, do you? These are in addition to the setlisted cover of Cilla Black’s ‘Alfie’, from the film of the same name and ‘Songs of Love’, best known as the theme tune to Father Ted. At times you wondered if Noel Edmonds would come on stage and start asking questions.
It’s hopefully not too insulting to say that the Divine Comedy remain resolutely uncool: indeed it is part of their appeal. Their songs are timeless in that, despite the cynical topicality of many of their lyrics, Hannon the immaculately presented dandy shines through as an anachronistic character in the songs.
Clearly, it’s a knowing aesthetic, and one they turn to their advantage in ensuring the new material – ‘Catherine the Great’, ‘Funny Peculiar’ (sung as a duet with support act Lisa O’Neill here) and Foreverland’s self-deprecating highlight ‘How Can You Leave Me On My Own?’ in particular – are delivered with an assuredness few bands showcasing new material would possess. They sit on a level plain with the ‘hits’ (“This song has been played quite a bit on the radio – fuck knows how – so it counts as a Hit. This is a Divine Comedy Hit”) sprinkled throughout: ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’, ‘The Fog Princess’, ‘Tonight We Fly’, ‘Something for the Weekend’ and ‘National Express’ are all present and correct, as is a rare performance of perhaps their best song, ‘A Lady of a Certain Age’.
The temptation for the casual fan is to think of The Divine Comedy as a 90s band but to do so is disingenuous. Cold or none, Hannon sounds stronger than ever and his rotating cast of band-mates seems to have landed on one of its best.