Glen Hansard

support Mark Geary
author TL date 05/10/15 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

If you are just now learning about Glen Hansard, then the struggle is real for you. With eight albums as the frontman of The Frames, three albums fronting The Swell Season, two albums under his own name, plus roles in the respectively classic and new classic movies "The Commitments" and "Once", the Irish songwriting veteran has quite a catalogue to dive into, and it can be hard to know where to start (although the new re-recordings compilation "Longitude" from The Frames is not a bad place). Yet the vastness of Hansard's catalogue is really the only reasonable cause for concern on this autumn night, where Amager Bio's repurposed cinema setting lends itself to as a cosy surrounding to anxious chattering from an audience coming in from the cold and getting their first pints in them. Because when Hansard last guested Copenhagen, the playing of his ensemble of musicians was beyond reproach. Only the length of the near three-hour trek through various corners of his discography made the experience a bit taxing to newer ears, making it seem like a priority to increase one's familiarity with Hansard's past highlights before tonight.

Stock photo of Mark Geary and GrĂ¡inne Hunt (Source).

Mark Geary

Before we get to Hansard however, his fellow Irishman Mark Geary has been given the task of warming us up tonight. He does so accompanied by backing singer GrĂ¡inne Hunt and together they perform acoustic folk-ish songs from Geary's back catalogue, although the use of various effect pedals also allows Geary to create occasional loops and distortion effects. Primarily though, it is his excellent harmonizing with Hunt that lifts the songs in this stripped-back setting, as Geary on his own could perhaps come off a bit plain musically. Yet its likely that few would take issue even if that was the case, because he proves to be a fine host and entertainer, devoting songs to fans that have interacted with him online and weaving various little anecdotes in between the numbers he plays. The crowd is encouraged to sing along to the vocal refrain in the song "Adam And Eve", helping it make an impact, and generally you get the impression that Geary is the kind of guy who will make sure that an audience always has a good time at his shows, even if they're not too familiar with his material.

7

Glen Hansard

After a break of a little under half an hour, it is time for Hansard, who once again appears amidst a host of other instruments. He handles the acoustic guitar himself (as well as the occasional ukulele and mandolin), while his Frames buddy Rob Bochnik is also present, handling the electric guitar and singing excellent backing harmonies. Alongside them, the band also counts a bassist, a violinist, a cellist, a pianist (playing a full concert piano), a drummer, a trumpeter, a saxophonist and a trombonist. The whole ensemble is illuminated in a clever way, with spots on poles elevated above each "section" of the orchestra, as if each was playing under its own, warm, yellow street light.

These spots then dim and light up in accordance with members of the orchestra stepping on or off depending on whether they are needed in the current song, meaning that our attention is always directed towards whoever is playing the important parts, while no one stand idly on stage to distract us. And such small details seem to have been perfectly considered in an excellent overall production, where the intricacies of the music are perfectly in focus at all times. Something that is truly a blessing, because both Hansard and band prove to be in world class form tonight.

The set, although again reaching beyond two hours, focuses mainly on Hansard's solo material this time, as well as the biggest hits from the "Once" soundtrack, yet it still manages to illustrate perfectly the breadth of his expression. In one end we have the beautifully melancholic set opener "Bird Of Sorrow", which joins songs like "Falling Slowly", "When Your Mind's Made Up" and "Leave" in demonstrating Hansard's penchant for truly heart-wrenching ballads. And on the other end we have the songs inspired by soul and gospel, represented with tracks like "Her Mercy" and "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting", the latter of which transitions seamlessly into a spirited version of Aretha Franklin's classic "Respect", on which the ginger Irish main man cheekily goes full Motown soul singer.

Stock photo of Glen Hansard (Source).

Apart from simply being a nice and diverse musical evening, however, it is the attention to detail, and the soft touch of the musicians that really set the whole thing apart. And similarly to Mark Geary before him, Hansard does not take our involvement for granted. Every other song is preceded by an anecdote or an explanation, often delivered with some tongue-in-cheek humor. Hansard explains how "Just To Be The One" was initially written about trying to charm a neighbor's dog that didn't like him, making only a passing remark that it eventually came to mean something else, before horn section kicks the song off beautifully. Then he recounts how he wrote "Come Away To The Water" for the soundtrack to "The Hunger Games", only to be devastated learning that the movie studio wanted Adam Levine to sing it, and then eventually feeling foolish upon being invited to Hollywood to play ukulele on the song and befriending the Maroon 5 star.

Stories like these draw us in and opens up our ears if they were not already open, and this is another blessing because, once more, the musical performance on this night is just exquisite. It takes the one song "Bird Of Sorrow" to get us a bit choked up already, and a bit later "When Your Mind's Made Up" practically floors us when the instrumentation surges to stormful heights during the song's finale. And even on his own, performing "Leave" solo, Hansard proves just how emotionally evocative he can be, belting long, strained notes out at the top of his lungs in a manner few can match. Meanwhile, the texture and feeling in the parts provided by Bochnik on the electric guitar and by the three horn players, in particular, simply lend the listening experience a whole extra dimension of vividness. Okay so maybe Hansard's mandolin drops below the mix on a few rare occasions, as do the strings, but the overall impact of each successive composition still has the audience humming with a growing sense of ecstasy as the show moves towards its close.

Here the band's now-traditional, unplugged renditions of Leonard Cohen's "Passing Thru'" and the Irish folk tune "Auld Triangle" round things off in an intimate manner, with the whole audience seated on the floor, huddled around the band and singing choruses, while each member of the tour has his or her opportunity to sing a verse. It brings to a close a two-hour set which only felt all too short, considering the extra bounty of Frames songs fans could also have wished for. And like that, somehow the one thing you could worry about ahead of the concert becomes the only thing left to wish for, after a performance you could not put a single finger on. A true concert of both musical intricacy and personal presence, which puts into contrast just how rudimentary and clumsy many of the rock shows we usually review are.

That's another way of reiterating that Glen Hansard and his band seem in absolute top form right now, and that fans should not miss this tour under any circumstances, and that this orchestra just made a whole lot of other artists look like they could be trying a whole lot harder.

10

Setlist

  • 1. Bird Of Sorrow
  • 2. Paying My Way
  • 3. Just To Be The One
  • 4. Winning Streak
  • 5. My Little Ruin
  • 6. When Your Mind's Made Up
  • 7. Falling Slowly
  • 8. Leave
  • 9. Moving On
  • 10. Pennies In The Fountain
  • 11. Come Away To The Water
  • 12. Love Don't Leave Me Waiting
  • 13. Respect (Aretha Franklin cover)
  • 14. Lonely Deserter
  • 15. This Gift
  • 16. Baby Don't Do It (Marvin Gaye cover)
  • 17. Stay The Road

Encore

  • 18. Hold On Magnolia (Jason Molina cover)
  • 19. Her Mercy
  • 20. Passing Thru' (Leonard Cohen cover)
  • 21. Auld Triangle (Irish folk song)

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