The Divine Comedy at the Barbican Online
“If this is the only time I get to do this this year I am going to enjoy myself!” resounds lead singer Neil Hannon, as he performs to a socially distanced, and predominately virtual audience. Although nothing can replace watching a band live, even on a laptop the Northern Irish band are charming, and the show is a life-affirming tonic for modern times. It’s the third performance in the Barbican’s new concert series Live from the Barbican. As always, the Barbican has shown its adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity and has created a seamless and well-executed live viewing-from-home experience.
Opening the concert aptly with Absent Friends, The Divine Comedy go on to perform many of their classic songs. Hannon and the band are celebrating 30 years together, with the show marking the release of Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, a career-spanning box set for the anniversary. The performance offers a fitting tribute to the past and a reflection of the songs and industry that enabled Hannon to become one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, but it also anticipates an exciting future for the band ahead of their five-night Barbican residency in 2021. Hannon is keen to praise the industry and those currently out of work, dedicating to them one of his most iconic tracks, Songs of Love. Made famous as the theme tune of Father Ted, the song is exactly what everyone wants and needs to hear right now.
Throughout the performance, Hannon is unphased by the unusual conditions imposed by the pandemic, encouraging viewers from home to “sing along.” At one point, he almost broaches the murky topic of the country’s current many-layered crisis, but thinks better of it: “Nah let’s not talk about that, let’s just play music!” Certain songs seem to be picked precisely for the purpose of raising people’s spirits, such as To the Rescue, its chorus an anthem for how music can achieve just that. Final song of the set, Tonight We Fly is an obvious favourite, the tiny live audience clapping enthusiastically in time, and it ends the performance on a touchingly positive note: “This life is the best we’ve ever had.”
Of course, watching a band live on-screen versus seeing them in real life is not the same experience, but this show proves that it is a superior alternative to excluding live music from our lives entirely. The concert is a fitting tribute to the band, as well as a perfectly curated and performed show that offers escapism and positivity in equal measure. Whether in-person or online, it will be exciting to see the The Divine Comedy’s Barbican residency in 2021.
Photos: Mark Allan/Barbican
For further information and future events visit The Divine Comedy’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Absent Friends here: