The Divine Comedy + Man and the Echo @ O2 Institute, 11th October 2019

There’s a hint at the kind of show to expect from The Divine Comedy tonight when the stage is decked out with office furniture ahead of their performance. Even down to the smallest details such as the drinks poured into office mugs and the setlists attached to clipboards, there’s a sense that Neil Hannon and the band want to immerse themselves and the audience into the themes of their current ‘Office Politics’ album as much as possible.

With 30 years of back catalogue to pick from, opening with disco-influenced early single ‘Europop’ serves to loosen up the crowd as well as subtly referencing the current political climate, whilst the new album opener ‘Queuejumper’ establishes Hannon’s knack for writing quirky fun-loving indie pop songs. “It’s great to be back in Birmingham!” he booms, removing his sunglasses for 1998 single ‘Generation Sex’ and the slower ‘Commuter Love’.

The middle section of tonight’s set focuses largely on new material, with Neil confirming that it’s “very loosely office-themed, but I don’t really know a lot about offices” before playing ‘Absolutely Obsolete’ and the band’s “tri-annual hit” ‘Norman And Norma’, which has a sound a little reminiscent of Morrissey at his peak. Another persistent theme tonight is frustration at advancing technology, with ‘Infernal Machines’ nodding towards Depeche Mode and ‘You’ll Never Work In This Town Again’ relying on keyboardists Ian and Andrew in a greater capacity. “If anyone’s thirsty, this is a good one to go to the bar to” deadpans Neil before the band gather for a quiet acoustic ‘I’m A Stranger Here’ and then don party hats and bring out balloons for the “office party” section of the set. Like any good office party there’s a few awkward moments, such as when Neil fluffs his lyrics on ‘I Like’ and struggles to catch up with himself, but deciding to deviate from their setlist and play classic single ‘National Express’ (“the one about the bus!”) things are quickly back on track.

There’s a certain 80s retro feel to the next few songs including ‘Life And Soul Of The Party’ and the ballad ‘A Feather In Your Cap’, which finishes with Hannon slumped at his computer desk as the lights flicker, and the bizarre electronic ‘The Synthesizer Service Centre Super Summer Sale’ serves more as an experimental curio than anything before the main set ends with 90s hit singles ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’ and ‘Something For The Weekend’.

Possibly the highlight of the entire set however is saved for the encore, which features the entire band huddled together at the front of the stage for a largely unamplified, acoustic set consisting of old tracks ‘Your Daddy’s Car’, ‘Songs Of Love’ and ‘Tonight We Fly’, and as the members file offstage for the final time everyone seems to be in agreement that this was certainly a good evening at the office for The Divine Comedy.

Support comes from Warrington’s Man And The Echo, who incorporate clever songwriting into their catchy indie which brings to mind Elvis Costello on tracks like ‘Give Me The Pomp’ and ‘A Capable Man’. Despite not having a lot of time to make an impression, they impress with their urgent and direct approach, with singer Gaz a particularly captivating performer and well-crafted set closer ‘The Girl From Hamburg’ one of many reasons to take notice of the band in future.


Reviewer: Ian Paget

Photographer: Stephanie Colledge 

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