A few weeks back, Glen Hansard sat in the Beacon Theater watching the musical he helped give birth to, Once, pick up eight Tony Awards. During his performance on the 29th of June near the beginning of a tour around his solo debut, Rhythm and Repose, Hansard said he knew he wanted to play on the Beacon’s stage. For a moment I thought Hansard had forgotten he had been there just over a year before, opening entirely solo for Eddie Vedder (he didn’t of course; tagged on at the end of his Van Morrison cover was the cry of “I miss you already” from Pearl Jam’s “Smile”).
Hansard’s solo effort was birthed in New York City, a fact he proudly shared with the audience. He reverently spoke of his friend and producer Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) and the Burgundy Stain Sessions Bartlett holds regularly at Le Poisson Rouge as the initial stimulus for the solo endeavor. Hansard has a lot to share. But though Rhythm and Repose is a solo release, at times there were more than fourteen people on stage supporting Hansard, including his original Dublin group, The Frames.
The band kept the affair relatively minimal for a rock concert, with light rarely overpowering the performers, but the audience may not have understood the message and had no shame in shouting out at Hansard. That an artist is honest and generous on stage does not necessarily mean the audience can communicate with him on a personal level. Hansard clearly has a lot of friends, as evidenced by the number of people on stage, but the lady up in the balcony yelling down at him isn’t one of them.
That being said, during Hansard’s songs, people remained pretty respectful. During The Swell Season number “When Your Mind’s Made Up”, people were singing along, but not at a problematic volume. The same for “Falling Slowly”, which Hansard decided to perform even though he rarely has done so without Marketa Irglova. Nor were they overpowering when they joined in for the “there” chorus in “High Hope”; Hansard almost didn’t let them stop, adding an extra chorus in just because there hadn’t been an even amount (as he put it).
These shared moments are what make Hansard draw so many loyal fans. He gives back to them whenever he can, and he gives to his gifted musician friends as well. An example of the former was his dedication of “Low Rising” to a fan that he chatted with on the street named Joe who was “about to take a risk.” In terms of the latter, Hansard described how his backing band were all “people who know what they are doing” and demonstrated this by jumping into a (presumably surprise) cover of Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” on which the band aptly supported him. Hansard implied this with confidence by saying, “See, I raise my hand and they stop.”
With his regular band also on stage, Hansard and company did a couple of Frames songs (“Fitzcarraldo” and “Revelate”) for “all of you who have been coming to see us all these years.” The latter soars as Hansard sings, “Sometimes I need a revelation,” and the violin weaves in and out of this refrain. The Frames were tight as supporters, as were the members of Levon Helm’s band, a band Hansard may have gotten to know when they shared a stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 2010. But with Helm having passed on, as did Clarence Clemons, Hansard stated that, even though “people say we lost someone great today, well, I think this whole band proves that when someone with great energy passes on, you inherit their energy. You don’t lose anything. You gain.” Though I can’t imagine Hansard beaming any more positivity or generosity than he already does.
While many of the songs from Rhythm and Repose were performed over the near two hour and thirty minute set, I have yet to hear one favorite, “Maybe Not Tonight” live. So I’ll have to see Hansard on tour again. No doubt the legions of fans he has earned from Once (both the film and the musical) and from The Frames or The Swell Season will be there too. It may seem less appealing to see this former busker playing ever larger venues, but Hansard has a knack of maintaining an intimate bond with his audience. Everyone wants to share in this treat; it’s like he is espousing something holy. Or as the man said during one song, audience participation transformed the venue. It became “just like church, except without the priests. Or the religion.”
Setlist (courtesy of there’s order in the sound.com):
The Storm, It’s Coming
You Will Become
When Your Mind’s Made Up
Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting - Respect (Aretha Franklin)
Low Rising - Sexual Healing (Marvin Gaye)
Talking with the Wolves
Rhinestone Cowboy (Glen Campbell)
Bird of Sorrow
In These Arms
Astral Weeks (Van Morrison) - Smile (Pearl Jam)
Say it me Now
Song of Good Hope
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band)
Don’t Do It (The Band)
Drive All Night (Bruce Springsteen)
Parting Glass (Traditional)
Passing Through (Leonard Cohen)
Unrelated bonus for those who have stayed this far. Glen Hansard performed a new song (“Shadows”?) at the Housing Works Book Cafe a couple weeks back. Stream it below and check out this New York Times interview.