Gig review: The Divine Comedy at York Barbican

On the day when a Tory MP had to resign over a tractor-related pornography incident, the news headlines have obligingly turned into a Neil Hannon lyric just in time for the Divine Comedy to breeze into York on their Charmed Life greatest hits tour. And sure enough, the dishonourable member gets a mention during Generation Sex tonight.

The Divine Comedy. Picture: Kevin Westenberg

It’s not only the shades of sleaze scandals past that suggest a 90s timewarp, Neil Hannon doesn’t appear to have aged since about 1996 - perhaps his Oscar Wilde fandom extends to Dorian Grey’s portrait in his attic. Sporting an immaculate suit and immaculate comic timing, he immediately has a packed house in the palm of his hand with his self-deprecating charm and the warm embrace of opener Absent Friends.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Throughout the night he expertly fields affectionate heckles, declarations of undying love and requests for My Lovely Horse (we do get Songs Of Love, based around his Father Ted theme) He’s also possibly the only frontman ever to employ the word “soupçon” when asking the soundman to adjust his monitor mix.

The Divine Comedy may have initially launched themselves on the Britpop wave but they’ve always inhabited their own world, steeped in orchestral pop kitchen sink romance and wry, literary lyrics, relishing the fine line between the profound and the profoundly silly. At one point a chap in a bowler hat randomly strolls from the wings to adjust Hannon’s guitar capo for a mid-song key change – you couldn’t imagine his hero Scott Walker tolerating such daftness. Live, the frontman relaxes in the capable hands of his outstanding five-piece band (particular credit to organist/accordionist Ian Watson who literally pulls out all the stops to reproduce the lavish arrangements) as they embark on a comprehensive tour of a back catalogue full of treasures.

Hannon’s songs pack hooks and one-liners that linger in the ears, from the lovely Everybody Knows and The Certainty Of Chance to the new The Best Mistakes and the stomping Gin Soaked Boy. How Can You Leave Me On My Own? gets the whole room out of their seats, ready for the inevitable final gallop through Something For The Weekend and National Express and finally a perfect send-off to a flawless show with Tonight We Fly.