Glen Hansard

support Rebecca Collins
author TL date 16/11/13 venue DR Koncerthuset Studie 2, Copenhagen, DEN

It's ten minutes to eight and due to some demonstration messing with the busses near my apartment, I'm rushing to make it to the Glen Hansard show at DR's "concert house", it being my first concert there and me having read that they don't allow people into the venue when the set has started. Stow your outrage - I think that is awesome! It's about time somebody takes musical performances seriously. There's also a ban on recording sound, video or picture with phones and cameras. Double awesome - Except as it turns out, this seemingly only applies in Studio 1, which is the main concert room, and not in Studio 2, which is where I'm headed tonight.

Ah well, Studio 2, as it turns out, is pretty cool as well. There's a choice of a free open cloakroom or a paid guarded one and at 50 DKK for an 0.5 litre Tuborg can, I don't feel like I'm being robbed considering that this is an upscale venue and I'm actually getting an unwatered beer from the bars which are both in the foyer and in the back of the actual concert room. Said room looks pretty incredible, with a large, low stage in the end near the entrance, a ceiling that slants up towards the back and light bulbs hanging on long cords, that can be adjusted to either look like small stars in the dark or to fully illuminate the room. The walls are equipped with large birch wood panels, each decorated with the silhouette of a famous artist - like Danish Kim Larsen or a more internationally famous Van Morrison - and these can supposedly be slid around to adjust the room's acoustics.

All pictures courtesy of Kenny Swan

The reason I'm in such fine surroundings tonight is to catch Glen Hansard, whom some might recognise as the male lead from the succesful 2007 indie movie "Once", or perhaps even as the guitarist Outspan Foster from 1991's "The Commitments". Mainly though, Hansard is the main man in the Irish rock institution The Frames, having released eight full lengths with the band, then three with folk-rock act The Swell Season and then last year's brilliant "Rhythm And Repose" in his own name. Suffice to say that with his 30 years as an active musician, 43 year old Hansard makes writers look like inexperienced kids, which I'm hoping will make for a concert experience outside of the ordinary tonight. Yet before we get to that, things aren't more extraordinary than there still being a support act:

Rebecca Collins

Originally Irish/currently Copenhagen-based Rebecca Collins is just starting her set when I enter the room, and as my phone chooses this moment to explode with messages and notifications, I become embarrassingly aware of how unusual a gig this is going to be. Coins can be heard rattling in the bar and beer cans being opened, as Collins starts playing an extremely delicate set based around her tender finger-played acoustic melodies and her singing voice, which sounds like it was inspired by 60's music, like Joni Mitchell in particular. The effect on the crowd is profound, as people quickly quiet down, politely holding both conversation and coughing and sneezing until the pauses between songs. Who knew that all you had to do to get people to shut up was to play quieter?

"I used to ask people to guess what this song is about, but I stopped doing it because they would always say "worms"" - Rebecca Collins

It helps perhaps, that the houselights stay dimly lit, meaning there's no darkness to hide in, as Collins impresses us mainly with her vocals which are simply exquisite - Her precise notes soar, dive and waver masterfully, and she varies the distance to the mic like a pro. Her fingerpicking seems quite complicated (at least seen from the back of the room), but then there are also two or three notes in the beginning of the set that don't quite get pressed perfectly. Unfortunately Collins' songs aren't particularly dynamic and the lyrics are inconsistent: "Earth" tip-toes relatively elegantly around its subject matter, but "Lonely" feels a bit too banal in just crying out its title thrice in the chorus in a weeping tone. So while Collins is charming and forthcoming enough between songs, the set slides from an impressive start to a slightly dull finish, giving me the impression that while Collins can sing and play extremely well, she needs to get a bit more ambitious with her songs to fully entertain for longer than the half hour she's assigned today.

Glen Hansard

With thirty minutes of changeover, I have time to get another drink from the bar, passing Teitur and Tim Christensen in the crowd on my way. Apparently Glen Hansard's reputation is not lost on other songwriters around here. When he comes on, he comes on with backup: "Hi, I'm Glen and we're called The Frames" he says, surrounded by a guitarist, drummer, bassist, pianist, tromboninst, saxofonist, trumpeteer and three violinists. He takes the piano himself for the set opener "The Storm, It's Coming", which comes out beautifully in the room's excellent acoustics and mix, which has everything on the night - Rebecca Collins included - sounding clear and audible yet making you forget that there's amplification entirely.

Hansard soon moves up to centre stage and picks up his worn down acoustic guitar, and soon we also make it around "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting" (also from "Rhythm And Repose", which is admittedly the album I'm by far the most familiar with). It quickly becomes apparent, that as much as Hansard is an Irish songwriter, he is also a great appreciator of American soul music, and with songs getting extensions to employ the full power of especially the horn ensemble the bridge here suddenly develops into an Aretha Franklin tribute, invoking the crowd's recognition with a bit of "Respect".

And from then on, we're off to a marathon through Hansard's musical history. Each member of the orchestra is introduced and given time to flourish in opportune songs, and the trombonist even gets to do lead vocals for a bit. He and his saxofonist friend flash equilibrist yet completely organic sounding solos, while Hansard's regular 'Frames buddies expertly maintain the songs' backbone, each providing fine vocal harmonies while playing his instrument. The Swell Season's "Low Rising" and "When Your Mind's Made Up" come off the setlist, and a crowd member crying loudly for The Frames' "Star Star" is accomodated as well, with the song getting a humoroustic bar or two with the piano melody from "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".

Overall the performance seems both tight on a level that's in another dimension compared to the simple sets played by most rock bands, yet also loose in the sense that you get the feeling that Hansard has the liberty to prolong songs and change the setlist around as he fancies. A friend of the band, Toronto songwriter Peter Katz, is spotted in the crowd and Hansard asks if he's keen to come on an play a song, which the younger man agrees to, taking place by the piano and playfully saying "I'll play a new song which doesn't have so many chords, so you can play along maybe Glen?" - And sure enough, after listening to a few bars, Hansard and the band cautiously start to add little supporting parts after Katz' chords.

As the show progresses through its' second hour, Hansard does a stretch solo with his acoustic, before the show then takes a more rock-ish twist (having been mostly songwriter/soul-oriented so far) and The Frames' "Revelate" makes an appearance among others, while the band also finds time to throw in a Van Morrison cover. At the two hour mark, there's a short encore-ish break, before the band returns to do even more songs, among them "Once"'s big hit "Falling Slowly" and a solo performance by violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who impresses by building up exquisite melodies with the help of a loop pedal.

"The last time we played here, we wrote a really good song in the afternoon, so it's nice to be back and to continue the tradition for us, making good memories in this beautiful place" - Glen Hansard

After two and a half hours, things supposedly move towards a conclusion as Hansard gathers everyone, including Rebecca Collins, at the front of the stage, to do an unplugged cover of Leonard Cohen's "Passing Through". But instead of ending after a trumpet solo and God knows how many verses, the band carries the melody onwards as they march down the side of the stage, round the back of the room and into the middle of the audience, where the song morphs into Irish prison folk-song "The Auld Triangle". This also has a verse assigned to each member of the band's entire crew, with the audience increasingly brought in on the chorus, reminding me of the scene in "Once" where a lot of strangers are eating and drinking and jamming together in communion and I'd be lying if I didn't say this doesn't end the night on a pretty special note.

"This song is dedicated to my friend Ezra, who got sick, did chemo, got sick again, did chemo again, got sick once again and decided to say "fuck the chemo" and go travelling and try all the drugs he never tried before.. And live, while he still had time.." - Glen Hansard

The only question here is: Is two hours and 45 minutes too long? The crowd, though applauding excitedly both at the openings and ends of songs, has dwindled towards the end, and several have had stretches sitting on the floor looking a bit worn out, even if Hansard and his mates look like they could keep going for hours. I think it's a question that will always face an act that has as much material from as many different projects as Hansard has, as I'm sure each part of tonight's set catered to different parts of the audience, yet very few of us were probably fully ecstatic during the whole thing. It's one of the reasons I make a habit of saying that pretty much no artist in the world should play more than one and half hour at most (except Bruce Springsteen.. And maybe Metallica and acts with that many classics). Because while Hansard and his band demonstrates some of the very highest levels of musicianships that I've seen throughout the night, they don't quite manage to keep us constantly engaged - feeling like we can relate to every single song. Next to that, it becomes silly to complain about the violin maybe being a bit under the mix here and there, or about the setlist not counting "Say It To Me Now" (a personal favourite). It just inherently troubles a performance that was otherwise extraordinarily musically masterful.

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