The Divine Comedy, Roundhouse, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Now, more than ever, The Divine Comedy - despite comprising a string and brass section as well as the standard guitarist, bassist, drummer and pianist - is about one man: Neil Hannon. Striding on stage to a stirring soundtrack, the one-time dandy spreads his arms to his adoring fans like a conquering hero.

Hannon's songs have always been heavy on bathos as well as pathos, setting lyrics about the most mundane acts of daily life to soaring orchestral arrangements, so such a start can only be ironic. But, given that he fails to introduce a single member of his band, it's hard to be sure.

But once Hannon lets loose his soaring baritone, he's forgiven. He lays into "Mother Dear", from the latest album Victory for the Comic Muse, with a will. Next up is "Bad Ambassador" from Regeneration (2001), and more barnstorming vocals. The audience, bizarrely decorous, seem unmoved; after the crowd-pleaser "Becoming More Like Alfie", off 1996's Casanova, fails to generate more than a few sedate pogos, Hannon drily addresses everyone in the circle seats: "Thank you everyone who's sitting down."

However, "Diva Lady", a savage attack on celebrity girls, and the melancholic "A Lady of a Certain Age", both off the new album, warm proceedings up. Old favourites from the early Nineties - "Daddy's Car", "When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe" and "Don't Look Down" - also get a warm reception; Hannon, it seems, knows the longevity of his audience.

The concert really kicks off about halfway through. Presumably in sly protest at the Roundhouse's no-smoking policy, Hannon lights up before launching into "The Plough". When he gets to the chorus ("I'll plough my own furrow, I'll go my own way"), there's a wave of laughter.

From then on, everyone's warmed up. Giving his backing band a break, Hannon asks for requests. It turns out that his fans are more au fait with his obscurer songs than Hannon is: he forgets the lyrics to "Lost Property" and "Sweden" and asks the front row for a lead. Still, the acoustic interlude is charming and sets up a series of favourites to close, including "Something for the Weekend", "Tonight We Fly", "Die a Virgin" and, of course, the wildly popular "National Express". We even get an impromptu rendering of The Doors' "Touch Me", in honour both of Hannon's wife (a Doors fan, apparently), and of the refurbished Roundhouse. And there's a second encore, of "Sunrise", his anthem against sectarianism. It's a moving way to end.

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