So the rumours currently circulating in the music press are true. Gone is the double-breasted suit with cravat and all the aristocratic upper-class tomfoolery. This is the all new Neil Hannon - bedecked out in scruffy jeans and a tee shirt. As he lollops on the stage at the Foundry Bar at Sheffield University to join the rest of his seven strong band he cuts an image not dissimilar to a slightly dishevelled John Lennon. "Helloooooow" he says, announcing himself is his distinctive drawl before launching into their latest single 'Love What You Do' with its atmospheric introduction and distinctively melancholic tinges. This is to set the tone of the night. If the masses (and there is a large and rather diverse crowd in tonight) have come expecting a greatest hits show similar to the one I witnessed at the Leeds Carling weekend, two summers ago, then they will go home disappointed.

The new album is the main agenda tonight. "Anyone been out and brought the new album? Oooohhhhh, thank you!" Not that they will have had time to soak up its finer points on the first day of release. 'Bad Ambassador' the next single to be taken from 'Regeneration' still has the operatic qualities of earlier works but lacks a good hook in the chorus department. The acoustic gentleness of 'Timestreched' shows that Hannon is not only blessed with a fantastic voice - he can also play a bit too.

Another thing that is apparent tonight is it is now more of a team effort rather than Hannon with a backing band. There can be no doubt that he has amassed a multi-talented troupe - there are shakers, xylophones, and even a recorder at one part of the proceedings. And Hannon's voice still sounds magisterial - an instrument in its own right. But somehow there's something missing. Turning his back on the songs that elevated this pint-sized son of an Irish priest into the hearts of a nation in the name of artistic credibility is not a big crowd pleaser.

OK, so we get an up beat 'Generation Sex' and a handful of lesser known songs from the band's back catalogue but how many artists ignore their most famous ditties? There is no 'Alfie' or 'Something for the Weekend' tonight. Another surprise is the band's note perfect rendition of Status Quo's 'Pictures of Matchstick Men'. This aside, the night leaves me and the others around me feeling a little on the cold side. As he parts company with 'Mastermind' with its key line "You don't need an indie song to figure out what's going on" and the crawling, mantra-like title track the crowd are already thinking about the encores. After a short break Hannon re-emerges solo to give us acoustic renditions of 'National Express' and 'Frog Princess' before the band reappears for one final tune. But this is all too little too late.

And then they are gone to leave us to hum the tunes we so wanted to hear to ourselves. I'm sure with time 'Regeneration' will stand out as a landmark in the rebirth of Neil Hannon, but tonight it was a case of a song too far from the new LP and too few of the real crowd pleasers.







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