Twenty years on, and they’re still going strong. The Frames might have taken some lengthy breaks from the rock and roll lifestyle over the years (and in truth, the always seems a slightly reluctant ‘rock’ or ‘pop’ group anyway, doing their upmost to introduce a more traditional vibe), but if their Electric Picnic performance and tonight’s set prove one thing, it’s that there’s still a passion and demand surrounding this band that few other Irish acts can compete with.
Tonight’s audience includes at least two groups that have traveled from the US to catch Hansard and co, and The Frames are in typically exorbitant form. Delving into a set that stretches to well over two hours, the classics are all on display: an emphatically boisterous version of ‘Revelate’, a stirring rendition of ‘Lay Me Down’ and a turbulent ‘Fitzcarraldo’ all reminding us of how a group of Dubliners got so big they headlined over an emerging and internationally popular Foo Fighters back in their prime.
Glen Hansard, as always, is the heart and soul of the band. While the other members highlight some exceptional musicianship, Hansard takes us on a whirlwind ride of cheesy experimentalism, at times switching into a Cockney accent, turning from stage front and conducting the loved-up audience like a well-honed choir. With a crowd so convincingly perched in the palm of his hand from the off, in fact, it’s difficult to be objective about The Frames: they’re greeted with such abundant hero-worship and lively rapture that describing tonight’s expansive and career spanning show as anything other than exceptional might seem like a personal affront. It’s a touch middle of the road, at times, but nevertheless, exceptional isn’t too wide of the mark.
Having said that, The Frames aren’t without their flaws. As an almost omnipresent character whose had more recent associations with gentle folk than chart-worthy rock, Hansard’s heavier moments do seem a touch surreal; like a stretch out of the comfort zone, and one that needs to be offset with moments of silliness. The ‘randomness’ is a whole lot of fun, but also a touch contrived: you hear The Frames throw down the theme to Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory in 2003 live album ‘set list’, for example, and it’s performed in the same way – part of a genuinely stunning ‘Star, Star’ – here. It’s memorable, but it’s years past having its intended ‘something a bit different’ effect.
Still, when a band are so able to rock out and still drift around the poppier edges of a folk realm many contemporary Irish musicians daren’t touch (their rendition of The Auld Triangle in the encore is a crowning – if cheesy – moment), it seems superfluous to linger on their flaws. Playing for around 135 minutes and keeping the audience interested for every second is no mean feat. Surviving comfortably in an arena that seems to positively encourage mindless heckling (along side some genuinely top-notch audience feedback, admittedly) and coming out of the other side with smiles plastered across every corner of the Olympia is a statement of intend. Besides, who says you can’t shop in thrift stores, play a guitar so battered you could hardly give it away and still be a rock star? File under past their best, and have an odd cringe at the cheesiness, sure. But ignore them at your peril: as a live force, The Frames are still walking an eclectic, enticing line that often crosses into the genuinely spectacular.