Pitching up at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Neil Hannon with his band of merry, Napoleonic men are set for the last night of their European tour on this Sunday evening. Hannon bounds on to the stage dressed as the complex one himself as his excellent band play the bombastic overture of ‘Sweden’. Immediately, a marker for the evening is laid down, theatricality, wit and a smidge of silliness permeate the Divine Comedy’s records, but they also provide the bedrock of the band’s live show.
The next couple of songs are taken from last year’s excellent Foreverland – ‘How Can You Leave Me On My Own’ and ‘Napoleon Complex’ get the crowd clapping along but the venue’s comfortable theatre chairs don’t exactly encourage the kind of boisterous behaviour you might expect at a rock show. A couple of songs in Hannon informs the crowd “You can enjoy yourself you know, it is allowed”; more a commentary on the relatively sterile setting than the crowd’s enthusiasm as they’re sucked into the intricate little vignettes Hannon creates with every song.
They’re a dedicated bunch, greeting every song title Hannon announces with warm, affectionate cheering. There isn’t even a mention of ‘My Lovely Horse’ until he brings it up himself, Father Ted fans settling for a beautiful rendition of ‘Songs of Love’ instead.
The crowd’s palpable devotion swells as the band’s immense repertoire (‘The Hannon Cannon’ as I like to call it) is rolled out. With 11 studio albums in the bag, Hannon cherry picks some absolute gems. ‘The Complete Banker’, ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’ and ‘Generation Sex’ are played in quick succession before support act Lisa O’Neill joins Hannon on high stool to duet on ‘Funny Peculiar’. ‘A Lady of A Certain Age’ is the quintessential Hannon song, a cinematic tale of an ageing socialite traipsing around the south of France trying desperately to reignite the dying embers of her youth, its dense quality recognised and appreciated by the crowd as soon as the first chord is struck. ‘The Indie Disco’ is briefly interrupted with a ‘Blue Monday’ intro that New Order themselves would be proud of.
Hannon descends into the crowd enacting the tale of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ with delighted audience members, sitting in empty seats, playing dead in the aisle and generally being an all-round showman.
In an almost Springsteen-esque feat of endurance the band perform for over two hours with just a brief interlude for libations from an ornate globe-shaped drinks cabinet, the crowd hanging on every note even if the venue doesn’t quite lend itself to such a high-energy performance. Nevertheless, the band return for two encores.
Hannon is truly one of our great songwriters, wearing various hats, inhabiting a plethora of characters as he cavorts through his rich creations he approaches live performances in much the same way. Our very own Mr Ben of pop.