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Shepherds Bush Empire Saturday 5th October 2002 Review

 
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2002 8:32 pm    Post subject: Shepherds Bush Empire Saturday 5th October 2002 Review Reply with quote

(originally posted on the old BB by Bazza7485)

The Divine Comedy/Ben Folds/Chris T-T - Shepherds Bush Empire - 5th October 2002

I arrived at the venue early and joined the queue. At about 6.30 pm, the venue opened its doors. After being accosted by a charity for money, which is a new(ish) trend at the smaller venues, I entered the building. Before arriving, I told myself that I did not need another t-shirt. Within five minutes, I had a new t-shirt. Also curiously, for the first time, I observed no one buying Divine Comedy merchandise; they all seemed to be purchasing Ben Folds t-shirts.

I rushed upstairs and secured a seat three rows from the front of Level 1. I looked around the venue and was still impressed by its style and size (I like to be able to see the performers without binoculars from time to time).
Someone behind me was engaging in a conversation about the running order of the gig. I reached into my pocket and indulged my chocolate craving (which had involved a ten-minute walk around Shepherds Bush, searching for anything that didn't resemble a Mars Bar).

At around 7 pm, Chris T-T came on, although his stage presence/arrival was certainly unusual. I get the feeling that the audience thought he was a stagehand, owing to his appearance and the seemingly awkward was he tested the guitar etc.

How wrong could we be!

Chris T-T is a large man with a penchant for writing astute, direct and regularly funny songs. For example, one of his songs involved his fantasies concerning various rock/pop stars that he longed to dispatch in myriad ways. He also has this Cockeresque (or Morrissey - take your pick!) ability to use cultural references as a means of enabling audience empathy with his songs such as his reference to 'Dawsons Creek' and 'Daily Mail readers'. Of course, this could ultimately geographically limit his appeal, but it hasn't hurt Billy Bragg! After his set finished, I almost went downstairs and purchased his album '253' (after the bus route, which apparently passes the house of the woman who was sitting next to me). I resisted the urge though as a form of chastisement for buying another t-shirt.

Then the real stagehands appeared and perfected the act of doing lots of little jobs with the maximum number of people. Then all of a sudden, Ben Folds appeared.

I have to confess to somehow never having encountered Ben Folds (or the Ben Folds Five; he performed solo this evening) before. He perched on a stool behind a piano, which he played with versatility; I can only compare with Steve Nieve. He also encouraged the different sections of the audience to sing various melodic lines (tunefully). It was clear from his arrival that I was the only member of the audience who knew none of his songs, so my silence made me feel conspicuous during the singalongs.

Lyrically, I can think of no real comparisons. He is not really like Elton John or Billy Joel yet he shares something of their commitment to songs and plays the piano with an enthusiasm that most guitarists seem to fake. He too has a new album to plug called 'Ben Folds Live'; the originality of this title he joked about. Oh yes, Neil Hannon performed a duet during Ben Folds' set during which only Hannon's guitar was audible (his vocals were largely submerged under the piano). One of my endearing memories of the gig will be Ben Folds standing on the piano conducting the audience.
The stagehands returned to perform their routines. Followed by the appearance of the Divine Comedy. Now owing to the lighting, which was used in a far more expressionistic manner than at most Divine Comedy gigs I have attended, I did not notice the fact that Neil Hannon was performing on a synthesizer.

The opening number was 'Here Comes The Flood', which was performed as an instrumental. I have not heard the song performed with such vigour. To reiterate a cliché, it rocked. This segued into 'National Express', which although fun is clearly a warm-up song; a crowd pleaser.

To the contrary, the reappearance of 'The Frog Princess' was a definite treat, especially Neil's assertion after the line about his visualisation of his frog princess beneath a silver guillotine, that the line was funny then (i.e. in the past), which denotes an artist who is becoming a little alienated from his past material.

The first new song of the evening was 'Our Mutual Friend'. A song about engaging in an affair with someone familiar to the narrator's partner. Something about this song resonated. It's a progression of Hannon's songwriting.

'Eye Of The Needle' was proceeded by a speech about its meaning. Essentially, it is about Neil's efforts as a teenager to accept his father's religion (his father was and is a reverend (I think) ) and his beliefs, whilst harbouring doubts about their validity to him. As he humorously stated, whilst he contemplated all of this, his father was 'at the pulpit'.

'Becoming More Like Alfie' now had a Johnny Cash sound owing to the band's 'truck-stop' tapes (tapes which were purchased as their touring coach in the States didn't have a CD player, one of which was a Johnny Cash tape). He also stated how this had influenced how he wrote many of his new songs (not exactly a joke based on a latter number, 'Idaho'). The song culminated with the line 'becoming more like Johnny'. Neil also added that it was lucky he hadn't picked up any Gary Numan tapes.

'Perfect Lovesong' was performed as well as could be expected. An okay song and the performance reflected its status.

'Woman Of The World' was dedicated (as it had apparently been the previous night) to Edwina Currie. As Neil stated this was apparently the only time he had felt any sympathy for John Major. Neil also created a great exchange between Edwina Currie and John Major, which commenced with Neil as Edwina breathing heavily then 'Oh John'. Then adopting an uncannily accurate simulacrum of Major's voice he uttered, 'Oh Edwina'. Followed by Neil's retort, 'Oh… sick'.

'Sunrise' was a brilliant performance of a brilliant song (sorry about the superlatives but this song nearly always brings tears to my eyes due to its honest emotional integrity).

Someone in the audience shouted out for 'Songs Of Love', which Neil refused stating that there was no point shouting for old songs as he was about to perform two new songs and that he thought that they were good songs (he said this without an air of vindictiveness).

'Idaho' has a Johnny Cash feel about it. It's a song about feeling displaced whilst touring and homesick. In many respects, not dissimilar lyrically to the 60s song 'East West', which was covered by Morrissey as a b-side. At one point during the song, Neil explained how 'this is a sad song'.

'The Happy Goth' was the last of the new songs performed and arguably the least successful. Although, its attempt to explore the cultural phenomenon of the Gothics, however loosely is admirable. Its essential sub-text is revealed by the title; are Gothics happy in the inside beneath the symbolism of 'heavy crosses' and dark clothing? Is the misery real or part of the image?

Then up pops Ben Folds to lend his hands to a performance of 'Bernice Bobs Her Hair' during which he performed on drums (his drum playing was considerably less exciting than his piano playing, which is clearly his instrument of choice). He then left the stage.

'A Drinking Song' was preceded by a dialogue from Neil who explained that by placing his unfinished pint of beer on the keyboard as the song progressed, it would very likely lead to his getting electrocuted and that he was a risk taker. Neil's tendency to forget his lyrics when he gets inebriated (well, at least, that's how I perceive it) continues apace. Still, he remembered enough of them to enable the audience to appreciate its sentiment as they rushed off to the bar to get some more lubrication.

'The Dogs And Horses' was as emotionally involving as ever and 'Tonight We Fly' left the audience with an upbeat feeling of satisfaction, whilst the band left the stage. Thanks to the conversation, I had overheard earlier in the evening, I was aware of the fact that Ben Folds and the Divine Comedy would be returning. The piano was pushed to the front of the stage.

Some of the audience shouted for Ben Folds. Both Ben Folds and Neil Hannon appeared (minus the rest of the Divine Comedy) and they performed 'Careless Whispers' (the old Wham song i.e. 'Never going to dance again' etc) and 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. Following this rather satisfying yet too brief interlude, the rest of the band re-emerged and everyone performed a song, which according to Neil had become a highly significant song on the tour, an anthem of types, 'Race For The Prize' (If anyone can tell me who wrote and/or performs this song, please let me know).

To sum up, this was the most involving gig I have attended this year and the most enjoyable Divine Comedy gig I have attended since 1998. The inclusion of Ben Folds on the tour and the departure of certain members of the Divine Comedy have I feel sub-consciously helped Neil Hannon to re-evaluate the overall feel of the band. The set list was much more successfully balanced than on previous outings. As I feel that Neil may have realised that the act of performing a large chunk of 'Regeneration' at every gig may not leave the audience feeling that satisfied (slightly like the bloated feeling you experience after eating too many chocolates and the equally unpleasant feelings of self-recriminations).

Also this was one of the few occasions where the support act(s) were as memorable as the main act (sorry, I didn't perceive Ben Folds as the main act as I paid to see the Divine Comedy, although I see now that it was a joint gig between two headliners and the support act whom Neil acknowledged in passing as being a strong songwriter and that ' the boy would have a strong future' (a humorous aside as Chris T-T is about the same age as Neil I would guess).

Barry Watt - 6-10-02
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