Gig review: The Divine Comedy at O2 Academy Leeds

'I don't understand modern society, let's go back to the past'. So laments Neil Hannon, the sole constant member and frontman of Divine Comedy. And what a past it is

The Divine Comedy at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson
The Divine Comedy at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

Twelve studio albums since debut Fanfare for the Comic Muse in 1990 through to the most recent release Foreverland, a delightful mix of the usual wistful and poignant lyrics with flamboyant strings backing light hearted, almost jaunty pop.

A live Divine Comedy set is unlike anything else on the circuit. Lyrically every song paints a picture, so much so it feels more like being an art gallery than a ‘dirty old rock club’, the set list arranged in acts reminiscent of a play, providing the theatre.

The band emerge in suits, the set a collection of furniture, Hannon leading the pack. Kicking off ‘what is going to be a long set’ with Down in the Street Below, the band make it clear that the evening will be a mix of antique rarities for the diehard fan, such as To Die a Virgin, and familiar crowd pleasures with Generation Sex.

Act One of this theatrical production is a section of ‘doomsday songs about God’. The Plough leads the way, Hannon sitting at a candlelit desk, on a series of tracks about God and love and heartache, the stage dimly lit.

The second act is one of pure imagery. With the band’s classic attire, the set conjures up a picture of 1950s decadence, driving through Europe in an open topped car, headscarves blowing in a Mediterranean breeze. A cover of Where Do You Go My Darling is followed by A Lady of a Certain Age (‘You chased the sun around the Cote d’Azur’) before it’s back to a gloomier message with Neapolitan Girl.

As in all good theatre, the final section of the set requires a costume change, Hannon resplendent in a lavish and over the top Napoleon Bonaparte outfit. Fittingly the set continues through the audience participative Napoleon Complex and At the Indie Disco, encompassing the most unexpected but welcome strobe light accompanied New Order excerpt.

Having filled the set with the quirky, off the wall tunes sat alongside more familiar tracks, closing the set was left to the most famous track. “You might think it’s s*** but you should dance anyway” is Hannon’s introduction to National Express, a statement which belied where it all started, that Hannon and Divine Comedy like the obscure, operating outside the mainstream within a world in which he feels most at ease.

The set had commenced with Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better as the introduction and with good reason, there are very few who are able to do any one element of this set better, never mind all of it in one evening. A class act.