THE DIVINE COMEDY
Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin
February 26th, 2017
And though he be but small, he is mighty. That bastardisation of a Shakespeare quote never rang more true than last Sunday night, when Neil Hannon stepped onto the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre stage in full Napoleonic regalia. Hannon has always been an entertainer, but his latest show puts his previous performances in the proverbial ha'penny place.
It's the final night of The Divine Comedy's long European tour, but if the Northern Irishman and his bandmates are tired, you can't tell. 'We have conquered Europe and claimed it for Ireland!', he proclaims – and given their success around the continent, it's not an entirely outlandish statement. Yet it's been several years since they played a full band set in Dublin, and the sell-out crowd at the are chomping at the bit to hear songs from 'Foreverland' and Hannon's extensive eclectic back catalogue.
Things start with a canter that soon becomes a gallop, as 'Sweden', 'Napoleon Complex' and 'How Can You Leave Me On My Own' swing and crash with a sophisticated verve, thanks to Hannon's superb fellow musicians. Older tracks 'Bad Ambassador', 'The Frog Princess' and 'Becoming More Like Alfie' all sound box-fresh, their notes pinging off the rafters of the theatre and delighting the crowd, while 'The Certainty of Chance' remains as swoonsome as ever, 19 years after its release.
Then there's a costume change; the 'Bang Goes the Knighthood'-era Hannon emerges, bowler hat and cane in tow, to serve drinks to his band from a 1970s-style globe-shaped drinks cabinet in the corner of the stage, to croon the increasingly-relevant 'The Complete Banker' and to duet on 'Funny Peculiar' with excellent support act Lisa O'Neill. Things take a turn for the more sombre with a beautiful telling of 'A Lady of a Certain Age' - one of the finest songs in his canon - before hit after hit ramp the tempo up once more. 'Songs of Love' (complete with 'cat organ' keyboard), 'National Express' (complete with obligatory crowd singalong) and 'Something for the Weekend' bring the crowd to their feet, while 'At the Indie Disco' segues superbly into New Order's 'Blue Monday' and back without the band missing a beat. There's even a jaunt into the audience during 'Our Mutual Friend' which sees Hannon encouraging an unsuspecting audience member to sing a few lines and then lie on the floor of the theatre as his band play on.
Two encores – and heart-lifting renditions of 'Tonight We Fly' and 'Absent Friends' later – it's all over. It's a fantastic gig, proving that not only is Neil Hannon a wonderful songwriter who will go down in the annals as one of the best, he's also a great, great entertainer.