a short site about The Divine Comedy

Edinburgh Liquid Rooms

His little nose buried in weighty philosophical tomes, his tousled head abuzz with grand, theatrical designs, Neil Hannon was always the scholarly wild card of the Britpop pack.

While fellow fop-pop envoy Jarvis Cocker's schtick has, at times, been almost arduously personal, there was never any such dirt to be found in Hannon's unruffled oeuvre. The tiny Irishman has always been too arch, too careful to allow anything as uncouth as unfettered emotion into his artfully contrived, sophisti-pop sphere.

Indeed tonight - during this particularly delicate, fan club-only performance - the closest Neil Hannon gets to a hardcore emotional, um, emission is when he politely refuses to remove his none-more-black shades: a move which, in Hannon's alabaster paws, is less a Luddite grasp at rock'n'roll pastiche and more a rather touching example of the pop singer's fear of bright lights. Bless. For despite the suspicion that Hannon's little heart lies more with the academic than the humanistic, there has always been a welcome warmth to be eked from The Divine Comedy's snob-pop. Even at his most artfully condescending ('National Express' - the only 'hit' to be given an airing tonight) - a sentimental streak the length and breadth of Kilkenny courses through Hannon's handiwork.

Nevertheless, the Divine live experience can, at times, appear a tad gauche; all those thumping drums and angry guitars seem like crass backslaps when compared with the genteel handshake that is their recorded output. That's why it's the broad brush strokes that really connect tonight - the obvious, wildly fun likes of the thigh-slappin', country-shaped 'Geronimo' and gorgeous, cabaret-esque croonerisms of 'Sweden' - rather than their more detailed, ornate numbers. The intoxicating ilk of 'Someone', in particular, is reduced to an indie'n'chips stomp; a pop fancy clearly too delicate to make the journey from record to stage.

They end with 'Regeneration' - an elegiac fancy that would have slotted in perfectly on the wonderful 'A Short Album About Love'. In terms of pop reinvention and phoenix-esque rebirths, it's a grade-A failure. But, when coupled with fellow slumbersome newies 'Dumb It Down' and 'You', it suggests The Divine Comedy are still as enamoured with strings'n' things as they were on 1998's hugely underrated 'Fin De Siecle'. No alarms and no surprises, then. Just the gentle evolvement of a still wonderful band.

Sarah Dempster