I saw the two last year before their Oscar win for best song, at the Crystal Ballroom – a much smaller venue than the Keller. I reviewed that concert here, and the movie Once here.
I was wondering if I would like the show last night better than the pre-Oscar big-time-fame show last year. My gut told me I’d prefer the last one better, but I gotta say, I really enjoyed last night. They were a bit more confident (especially Marketa) but the down-home feel was just as present.
By being a street performer in Ireland from age 13 through 18, Hansard honed his skills for getting an audience involved and is now translating that skill to these newfound BIG audiences.
For example, he’ll have the whole audience whistle a tune, or whisper a line over and over – well beyond the usual ‘clap alongs’ that most performers will try to get out of their audience. It made for some pretty cool moments. You wonder if they are on the bus thinking, “what can we get the audience to do for us tonight?’ Reminds me of Jim Morrison from The Doors where he would try and purposely get the audience angry in his own bizarre live ‘social experiments.’
This tour has been reviewed elsewhere on the Web with full set lists and the names of who exactly were onstage, so I am going to bypass that part. I will say, though, that the addition of Rónán Ó Snodaigh and Liam Ó Maonlaí (founder of Hothouse Flowers) as the openers was a smart idea. These two were Hansard’s “mentors” when he was a street musician and having them open, and join the rest of his band off and on throughout the night, was like having his teachers perform with him. And they were fantastic, adding a very traditional Irish bend to the whole thing, in both what songs they performed and what instruments they played.
Then there was Joseph the guest star. If the story is to be believed, Hansard and Irglova were strolling through Portland before the gig and ran into this kid who for some reason clicked with the two. Long story short, Hansard tells the tale and has the kid come all the way down from the nosebleed orchestra section to sing a song onstage. He does Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) by Looking Glass (one hit wonder from 1972) to the first standing ovation of the night.
The evening was full of these moments, as well as the great music I expected. We got all the Once music, a few solid new songs, and older songs by Hansard’s band The Frames, done in new ways with this lineup and format. There were even a couple of covers – one of the best was a version of Into the Mystic by Van Morrison that closed the set, before an encore that was about two songs too long. We also got the obligatory long, rambling, funny song intros by Hansard that in some cases were about as long as the songs he played after the intro!
The thing that is most cool about Glen Hansard is that after winning the Oscar and obtaining the level of success he now has, he could have gone in a glitzy direction. You know, a whiz-bang stage design; Some top name hired guns onstage; Expensive clothes, new equipment.
But what the guy decides to do is call up his old busking friends and bring them on the road. Not only as the openers, but to join him onstage to augment his band. He also gives everyone in his band a spotlight – from a violin solo spot to the bass player singing a verse to a song.
No, the only new trapping I noticed was a bigger, nicer bus outside. The guy seems to have maintained his humble nature and is taking advantage of the new success to spread it around instead of hoarding it. He and Irglova understand that sometimes the sum is much bigger than the added value of all the parts and having talented musicians around doesn’t detract attention from the main stars, but rather augments the spotlight and – really – just makes for a much better show overall.