Glen Hansard @ Vicar Street by Sean Smyth (26-11-13)-11-banner

Glen Hansard at Vicar Street, 26th of November 2013

The particular genius of Glen Hansard is different from that of other musicians. As a songwriter he couldn’t be considered the best this country has to offer in either originality or prolificacy, as others write songs that are more melodic, more poetic and ultimately more memorable. But in a live setting he will never let you down. Hansard and his band have a unique ability to use music as a communal tool. With his guitar in hand and supported by drums, strings, piano, bass and brass he creates a bubble that manages to separate an audience from the outside world. He does it at his Grafton Street busking sessions on Christmas Eve, he did it in the Iveagh Gardens during the summer and he does it tonight at Vicar Street.

It’s a slow process before this point is reached, and we have to fight through the heckles of an unyielding drunk and a song stopping midway for sound issues and Glenn himself has to tear through all the strings on his battered acoustic as he does on When Your Mind’s Made Up before we get there. And get there we do, but not before the entire body of the two hour set is concluded and the neck-tie is further loosened and a few more shirt buttons are undone.

About an hour in after a cover of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, a song whose bassline hangs heavily over Glen’s soul sound this evening, Glen takes his place at the piano with Colm Mac Con Iomaire on fiddle and they play a new song which ends in Colm going off on a reserved little jig. Glen jumps up, picks up his guitar and plays along. The band finally returns and breaks into Falling Slowly and now we’re approaching breaking point. Then the moment arrives.

Trombonist Curtis Fowlkes steps from the brass section to the front of the stage and the band begin to play Move On. Glen is to Curtis’s side and when the verse is about to start he moves his head right next to Curtis’s ear and feeds him the lines. Curtis then sings in a soulful falsetto one bar at a time as Glen comes back repeatedly feeding the lines. It’s an incredibly hypnotic moment, kind of like watching a jenga tower getting higher and higher as you know one missed line or a moment of hesitation on Curtis’s part could bring the whole song down. But time and again he nails it, at least eight times per verse, several verses deep and eventually the tension is beautifully released when Curtis’s brass-mate on the fluegelhorn steps forward and breaks into a solo.

This is followed by the straight rock of Revelate, with that iconic rising bassline which adds the second of a one-two punch following the brilliance of Move On. Shortly after comes Star, Star during which the strings section breaks into a whispered medley of Twinkle Twinkle/Pure Imagination, and with that we’re led into that realm of Glen Hansard’s own creation. The songs around this point start off quietly and simply, slowly climbing towards a point of crashing, screaming chaos before exploding into silence. At least you expect silence, but when the reverberations die down either the drum is still tapping or the bass is still beating or Glen decides he’s not done singing and it starts up all over again. It takes you to the limit then pushes you beyond you’re endurance. But it’s not indulgent, you start to desire it.

An acoustic (non-amplified) version of Gold is performed by the band at the front of the stage, but shortly after they disappear. He’s the king of the behind-closed-doors session, the master of evoking moods of companionship in venues of this size. As a vessel for musical textures and intensity he blows the cob-webs off of experiencing live music, so that you remember the novelty of seeing music performed live for the first time again. No phones, no cameras, no curfews, no bullshit. Just the music.

Paddy Casey and Mark Geary come out for a song each before Bronagh Gallagher arrives and after another Van cover in And The Healing Has Begun, as Bronagh leaves the stage Glen starts strumming and says “Bronagh, what about this?” and the opening chords to Mustang Sally turn the venue into a rocking ocean. It’s still an incredibly satisfying song and they follow up with Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t You Do It and Glen’s own Her Mercy. The final song of the evening is Hey Day and it’s proof of the success of Glen’s exhaustion method that the room is twice as animated for this song as it was for any other moment in the gig, not even almost wishing for the door. But alas, midnight strikes and Glen says farewell and the security guard crosses himself in thanks. The fact that it was a Tuesday night may have meant Glen’s ability to fend off the outside world didn’t come into its most tonight, but we forgot about work and kids and obligations for three hours in Vicar Street, and really what else is a live music performance about?

Glen Hansard Photo Gallery

Photos: Sean Smyth