The Divine Comedy in New York City|
originally published on SPINonline
If Neil Hannon becomes any more laconic during his live sets, he'll run
the risk of actually nodding off on stage. Not that this langorous delivery
is necessarily a bad thing at all-quite the opposite, in fact. The Divine
Comedy have created a delicious wink and a cocktail sip of a stage act; a
martini dream wherein a man with a smidge of style and a shelf of the right
reading material can magically transform himself into a dashing Casanova.
A enticing confection, to be sure, but one which had slightly soured as
of late. The crowds still whistled along on cue with "Frog Princess",
packed the clubs and gladly shared their cigarettes with Neil Hannon, desperately
in need of an onstage drag, but lately, more often than not, the intelligent
and charismatic songwriting had been swallowed up by overly acidic showmanship.
Sweet and occasionally songs dissolved in cynical delivery and biting banter.
Certainly cerebrally appealing, but somehow slightly soulless and only coldly
This is perhaps why the Divine Comedy's April 18th show at Fez in New York
City came a such a delicious surprise. With this engaging and captivating
set, frontman Neil Hannon and pianist Joby Talbot seemed to have renewed
their faith in the honest appeal of their songs. Stripped of their usual
bitterly witty delivery and cynical banter, playing to a capacity crowd
which included such music luminaries such as Setanta labelmates and dino-rocker
Robert Plant, the Divine Comedy gave a refreshingly energetic and genuine
performance. Songs ranging back to earlier albums such as "Liberation"
and "Casanova" all the way up to their current release "A
Short Album About Love" seemed to be transformed from cynical and clever
ditties into melodic and tender gems.
It takes a uniquely gifted performer to deliver a line like "If you
were a horse, I'd clean the crap out of your stable and never once complain"
and not completely drench it in sarcasm. During Friday's show, Hannon was
able to meld his intelligent and witty literacy with a touching vulnerability
and absolutely mezmerize the audience.
Perhaps the most stunning moment came with Neil Hannon's rendition of a Stephin
Merritt penned 6ths song which had been handed to him merely hours before
the show. Merritt, the Magnetic Fields frontman, posesses a rare genius
for crafting songs which emphasize other singers' strengths, and this one
perfectly suited Hannon's brand of witty intellect tempered with gentle
sentimentality. Without adequate rehearsal opportunity to sheath the song
in a slick veneer, Hannon cameforth with a shyly charming and slightly trepidatious
acapella rendition of this dour, sensitive song and with this flash of the
more human Hannon, rather than the elegantly inaccessible creature he's
devised, the audience was left breathless.