a short site about The Divine Comedy

Divine's the word

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Ben Folds are a congruent pairing. Both are extraordinarily gifted instrumentalists, tunesmiths and lyricists. Both possess an unfashionable belief in bringing a literate sensibility to pop songs. Both have expressive and distinctive singing voices. Both spent the early parts of their career lurching between moments of powerful solemnity and lamentable exercises in undergraduate zaniness - and both, since turning 30, appear to have realised that they want more from life than being the second-favourite act of Barenaked Ladies fans, and have accordingly ceased sowing their fine albums with whoopee cushions.

Folds is an irresistible performer, the more so when it’s just him with his grand piano. He does play to they (raucously appreciative) gallery, but with such charm that it could take an especially grouchy Statler or Waldorf to find fault - introducing ‘Army’, Folds divides the crows into trumpet and saxophone sections, and conducts them through a surprisingly harmonious imitation of the swinging brass middle eight of the record. The audience are also drafted as backing vocalists on ‘Not the Same’ and ‘Song for the Dumped’. The latter has been rejigged from a major-chord romp to a minor-key lament, but the immortal couplet, “Fuck you too / Give me the money back, you bitch”, still makes the rock’s canon of unrequited affection feel somewhat redundant. Fold deserves his standing ovation. He is a performer of real genius, and most would be reluctant to follow him on to a stage with anything less than an arresting feat of catering involving loaves and fishes.

The Divine Comedy follow him with their enragingly bumptious hit ‘National Express’, though this is actually good news on the grounds that things can only get better, even if Hannon delivers a set of the greatest hits of Jonathan king. In the event, he sticks with a selection of his own songs: ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’, fit to a new Johnny Cash-style backbeat; a magnificent reading of ‘Sunrise’; and a reminder that ‘Perfect Lovesong’ is the greatest Valentine’s Day number-one that never was.

The encore brings Folds and Hannon on stage together. They had already done cameos during each other’s sets - Hannon lending guitar to Folds gorgeous Glen Campbell-esque ballad ‘Mess’; Folds playing drums on the ancient Divine Comedy tune ‘Bernice Bobs her Hair’. Together, they each sing their own (Hannon’s ‘Songs of Love’, Folds’s ‘Evaporated’); each other’s (Folds does ‘Your Daddy’s Car’, Hannon croons a beautiful ‘Brick’); and other people’s (duet on ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’ and the Flaming Lips’ ‘Race for the prize’). The applause that sees them off threatens to bring down the fixtures and fitting - nobody would have budged if they’d offered to take requests all night. A pleasure, and a privilege.

Andrew Mueller
The Independent 09/10/2002