a short site about The Divine Comedy

The Ambassador

In many ways this was a strange pairing: the son of a bishop reared on classics, Brel and belle époque cinema, joining forces with the unashamedly middle-American pioneer of guitar-free indie. On the other hand, they have self-reinvention, tongue-in-cheek lyrical wit and the ability to mix bathos and pathos in common.

Ben Folds is so small and unimposing it seems like a conscious style choice. The new addition of glasses completes the poster-nerd look, and he appears even smaller in comparison to his baby grand. But by Christ, can he play it. In the case of stompers like 'One Angry Dwarf,' he attacks the instrument with such a manic ferocity it becomes a percussive orchestra, creating a more inspiring racket than most full bands manage.

His unassuming nature (tempered by a confidence which, given his extraordinary musical talents, is to be expected) endears him to the half of the crowd who are seeing him fresh. By 'Army' he has everyone singing the horn parts, and is standing on top of his piano conducting them like a cerebral Jerry Lee Lewis.

A tough act for The Divine Comedy to follow, then, and initially it seems they can't. Just as Folds was surprisingly accurate, Hannon seems uncharacteristically ramshackle tonight: forgetting lyrics, tinkling the wrong ivories and at one memorable point, spilling half a pint of Guinness over his poor keyboard.

But it fast becomes clear that Hannon hasn't lost his consummate showmanship. He makes light of his gaffes, winning over the cynics, and things take a distinct turn for the better when Folds joins him on drums for a brilliant 'Bernice Bobs Her Hair'. 'Sunrise,' which definitely doesn't work on record, is given new life in concert.

Folds returns yet again (Neil obviously knows a good thing when he sees it) and the pair run through some fabulous duets. There is something weirdly fitting about their final number, a soaring cover of the Flaming Lips' 'Race For The Prize'. In a sense these two relentlessly inventive, obsessive and intelligent musicians are just like the two scientists in the Lips' tale. Theirs is to win, if it kills them.

For tonight, let's call it a draw.


Sam Healy
Hot Press 18/10/2002