Regularly admitting that he’s not one for New Year’s Eve, Neil Hannon’s appearance as this year’s New Year Eve headliner at The Sage feels, well, like one of those typical Divine Comedy anecdotes which manages to upset everyone apart from their own fans; who in turn find the sheer theatre of it all hilarious.
As proved with 1996’s ‘Casanova’, Hannon’s uniqueness has always been his ability to champion, and demonstrate, intelligence within the confines of a British pop culture regularly seeking reductionism. Who wants clever, interesting, intellect wrapped up in 3-minute pop sounds when you can have another tattoo-sleeved, heir to a celebrity, manufactured star providing poor rhymes over second-rate hip-hop? Well as it happens, tonight The Sage does. And thank god. Because without this audience pop music might as well give up its lofty ambition of producing both melody and meaning.
Bounding on stage all sharp-suited and mop-topped, Hannon, and The Divine Comedy, provide grown-up pop music for, well, mostly grown-ups. A concise five-piece (plus Hannon) the group spend the evening re-creating orchestral (‘Everybody knows’, ‘Your Daddy’s car’) and acoustic (‘To the rescue’, ‘Songs of love’) tracks with serious musicianship and, in places, glorious 5 part harmonies. Highlight of the evening sees ‘Down in the Street below’ continue straight into ‘To die a virgin’ in a blend of complete pop symphony; ‘Street’ with its piano loveliness, wistfulness and theatre glee-ness and ‘Die’ with its Roxy-Music style glam and prog rock stance. Together they fit perfectly and journey the audience across fine storytelling and soaring dynamics in a combination which summarises tonight’s show; a little showy in places, a little intellectual in others, but an almost perfect evening with a fine pop band with fine pop songs.