Neil Hannon – Melkweg – 27.09.2010

I knew that Neil Hannon was talented and could write a catchy pop tune without breaking a sweat. What I didn’t realise is just how entertaining he is as a live performer. During last night’s “An Evening with the Divine Comedy”, which was essentially a one-man cabaret, he delivered almost two hours of witty, moving, catchy, musically interesting songs. The newer material sat nicely alongside the older stuff (of which there was lots – including five songs from the Promenade album). And the between song banter was a cut above the usual “it’s great to be in Amsterdam, you’re such a great audience” patter.

It was a seated gig. Hannon switched between the grand piano and the acoustic guitar, although he stuck to the piano most of the time. He’s a fine guitarist but the piano flourishes add so much more to his songs. Still, the guitar delivered two of the highlights of the show for me: Songs of Love (the Father Ted theme) and A Lady of a Certain Age. I hadn’t heard the latter song before and found it quite moving. His lyrics are so carefully and precisely observed and he almost never misses the mark emotionally. A few of the songs on the newer album haven’t quite clicked with me yet, but hearing them live (and with his introductions) helped a lot. Down in the Street Below and The Complete Banker work equally well on record or live, but I thought At The Indie Disco worked better in the flesh. (He followed it, aptly, with a fine version of Don’t You Want Me Baby? by the Human League.)

I’m a big fan of Ben Folds…and I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Hannon as being a bit like a Ben Folds of the British Isles. (I know he’s Irish, but he draws heavily on England and the English for his songwriting.) I would happily have sat and listened to him for another two hours – it was particularly nice to hear old songs that I’d never heard before, or familar songs that I hadn’t paid enough attention to. And the hum-along to the chorus of National Express was great fun. Even when he forgot lyrics or chords (which was quite often) it was always entertaining. In fact, I suspect one of two of his “mistakes” were calculated to entertain.

Cathy Davey opened for him and was also very impressive. She commanded the complete attention of the crowd, which isn’t always easy in Amsterdam for support acts. (Of course it helped that we were mostly seated.) She plays guitar in a crisp, ryhthmic style, and has a definite talent for crafting catchy listenable tunes. I think most of the material was from her newest album which I haven’t yet heard, but I’m looking forward to downloading it (legally!) as soon as it’s available here in the Netherlands.

Here’s a version of A Lady of a Certain Age from La Blogotheque (which, incidentally, is a great site for finding peformances by unique artists in unique places, mostly around Paris).