Modern Troubadours: Eddie Vedder + Glen Hansard
18 Jun 2011: Bushnell Auditorium Hartford, CT
Normally working alongside their respective bands, Pearl Jam and either the Frames or the Swell Season, both Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard took advantage of a solo outing to share their own compositions as well as some from their groups. Being Vedder’s tour, he centered it around the release of his new solo album, the aptly titled Ukulele Songs, featuring songs done with little more than the ukulele. The third stop was set at Hartford, Connecticut’s gorgeous, “Faberge egg”-esque, Bushnell Performing Arts Center, designed by the same firm that did Radio City Music Hall and home to the largest hand painted mural in the United States.
Though their distinctly differing personalities were apparent on stage and through conversation, Hansard and Vedder could not have been a more appropriate pair of artists to share a stage together. Vedder, on one hand, could be seen as more introspective and uncharacteristically aloof from any guise of celebrity (have you heard the Into the Wild soundtrack?). On the other, there is Hansard, an exceedingly welcoming, positive and extroverted person who is not one to shy from his fans. Vedder was astounded when, prior to the show, Hansard started a dinner conversation by observing, “the best thing about a hangover.” Vedder’s incredulous thought was he had yet to reach this “level of positivity”.
These two are contemporary bearers of the troubadour tradition. It is possible to envision both artists as wandering minstrels; Vedder surfing the breaks of Hawaii and grabbing the uke for the first time; Hansard bailing from school to busk, then working diligently on music with the Frames until Markéta Irglová and their band the Swell Season propelled him into stardom all while maintaining the same intimacy with the audience. Both have experienced much in life and the world through their musical pursuit. And both have, tragically, gained membership to “a club that no one wants to be in”, a comment that pertained to incidents where audience member(s) died during the band’s performances.
Hansard’s brief opening set began with “Pennies in the Fountain”, a lovely song that created some confusion during the performance. Apparently my ears were not the only ones deceived though. When Hansard said his friend asked if he was going to play that song “panties in the fountain” again, the audience erupted in laughter. He shared a story of his first phone conversation with Vedder, and was proud to have saved the number for his call the next evening. During his cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, Hansard threw in the verse “I miss you already” from Pearl Jam’s “Smile”. Finally, Hansard wrapped up his set, grateful as always to the audience for heading in early to catch him playing some of his new songs.
Vedder took the stage a bit later than anticipated, seated in minimal light in front of a sparsely decorated stage with a city vista backdrop. Beginning with “Waving Palms”, he continued through with six more songs from Ukulele including “Goodbye” and “Broken Heart”—plucky, yet somber, little numbers. Along the way he rambled about legalizing marijuana, and rating it so children would need permission for anything over PG-13, and also corrected Hansard earlier for not shyly avoiding the fact that Vedder actually asked to get a beer and not tea when they met.
A couple of my favorites from Vitalogy made an appearance, including a stirring “Betterman” and the tremor-inducing “Immortality”. “Arc”, from Riot Act, sounded chilling and primordial as Vedder looped his voice in a darkened stage before exiting for a short break. In the short finale, Vedder played the first single from Wild and his version of “Dream a Little Dream”. As the heavy red curtain rose, it revealed distinctly bright lighting on the pair, now wearing matching white lab coats in front of a beach scene backdrop, who let loose “Hard Sun”. Up on their feet, the audience clapped along and screamed when it was over, only to then quiet down for the final serenade.
No show is without its flaws however, and of my two complaints, the first one I will blame squarely on the audience. Getting a bit rowdy at times, some people were clearly not attuned to what Vedder wanted to do, which was first and foremost to play his uke. He did mix in Pearl Jam songs and switched between the guitar and mandolin while maneuvering through the occasionally riotous crowd. Well accustomed to the sing-alongs that occur during Pearl Jam shows, I cringed when one female belted out a poorly pitched and poorly synced “Just Breathe”, which was done just as lovingly as ever. Then when Vedder was sending well wishes to Clarence Clemons (of Springsteen’s E-Street Band, who unbeknownst to Vedder had actually just passed away) but had cleared a “pretty big hurdle in his health” earlier in the week, the crowd raged on disrespectfully even dampening some of the spirit of “Betterman”.
My second, less problematic criticism can be leveled at Vedder himself. His booming baritone voice is an integral part of Pearl Jam’s oeuvre and here he managed the level of force exceptionally on tracks like “Unthought Known” or “I am Mine”. Yet, on the “softer songs”, Vedder’s voice was never quite “soft”. Instead the distinction seemed more apt to describe songs that were merely slower. Clear differentiation could be made between “Speed of Sound” and the fast tempo “Lukin”, which was jokingly prefaced with, “actually there’s going to be one more quiet one”. The sole exception was “Sleepless Nights”, where Vedder and Hansard sat a good distance away from the single microphone so the room “could do a little bit of work on this one”. However, numerous eruptions (see first criticism) from the audience beforehand showed much detachment.
Overall, the evening was a great chance to see Vedder stretch his legs and demonstrate how powerful the little uke could really be. Aesthetically, the instrument isn’t that far off from a bard’s lute after all. It’s not hard to imagine Vedder wandering off to watch the breaks and sing a little song about drifting. Fortunately, he decided to come back and share those songs with us.
Eddie Vedder in Hartford
Glen Hansard Set List (via theres order in the sound):
01. Pennies in the Fountain
02. Low Rising / Sexual Healing (Marvin Gaye)
04. Astral Weeks (Van Morrison) / Smile (Pearl Jam)
07. Song of Good Hope
01. Waving Palms
02. Can’t Keep
03. Sleeping By Myself
04. Without You
05. More Than You Know (Rose, Eliscu, Youmans)
07. Broken Heart
08. Light Today
09. Trouble (Yusuf Islam)
11. Just Breathe
12. I am Mine
13. Betterman [for Clarence Clemons]
14. Long Nights [w/ Glen Hansard on bass]
15. Far Behind
19. Unthought Known
20. The End
[Set Break 1]
23. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
24. Sleepless Nights w/ Glen Hansard (Boudleaux Bryant, Felice Bryant)
25. Society w/ Glen Hansard (Jerry Hannan)
26. Speed of Sound
[Set Break 2]
29. Hard Sun [w/ Glen Hansard] (Peterson)
30. Dream a Little Dream (Gus Kahn, Wilbur Schwandt, Fabian Andree)