- 20 Dec 18
It was time for a night of celebration, magical music, heartfelt seriousness and a phenomenal set at Vicar Street, when the Glen Hansard show hit town...
You never know what you’re going to get with a Glen Hansard gig. Granted, you’re fairly certain you’ll get the hits; you know you’re going to have sore feet by the end of it; and unquestionably you’ll get your money’s worth (considering most of his gigs hover around the three hour mark). But the real delight of every gig lies in the surprises he’ll give you. Whether it’s lashing into 60s folk ballads or rocking to hits from obscure Belgian rock bands, Glen’s modus operandi tends to be “throw everything you can onto the setlist and make up even more when you’re on stage.” And it works!
He’s on fine form for the first night of his Vicar Street run. His initial songs are a mix of euphoric, climactic experiences followed very quickly by introspective pieces. He has a way of seeming like he’s doing it off the cuff when actually he has the live music precision of a surgeon. Glen has this way of drawing you in, quietly parking an eight-piece band in your eardrum before unleashing everything he has and throttling you with it. We’re about five songs in before anyone's been able to take a breath.
It’s a mix of mainly covers and Glen Hansard album tracks tonight. He sticks to songs from 2015’s Didn’t He Ramble in the opening salvo of the gig. The title song, ‘Winning Streak’ and ‘Little Ruin’ are among the fan favourites here, while ‘Lowly Deserter’ has a sax solo so buoyant and joyous you could float away on it.
The set enters a raucous phase after the unmistakable ‘Fitzcarraldo’ is aired. ‘Way Back In The Way Back When’ features a cameo from Glen’s resident ‘washboard player’, who bangs a beat on the kitchen utensil of the same name with a couple of hairbrushes. Madness.
We’re then treated to Glen’s rugged, and spine-tingling, rendition of ‘Fairytale of New York’. It’s an obvious choice, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. This is followed by Mark Geary coming on stage to remind us that Glen has his own Christmas song ‘Christmas Biscuits’; it’s often overlooked in the festive music category, but it’s not bad at all.
Once that’s done, Glen pays tribute to some of the people who were pivotal in the making of his latest album Between Two Shores. To that end, he introduces us to a trio of Iranian string and woodwind musicians, who he calls “hugely informative” in the album’s making. They do a piece by themselves – it’s like nothing you’ve heard before on your folk Spotify playlists, but fits seamlessly into the set – before helping Glen out with ‘The Closing Door’ and a few other tracks from his third album.
There’s more surprises in store. The Eskies’ Ian Bermingham gives us a rendition of the band’s stunning folk song ‘Building Up Walls’ - because why the fuck not? – before Glen invites Anthony Flynn from Inner City Help The Homeless to come on stage to talk about the important work that this charity – along with Glen himself – have been doing to help the homeless in Dublin. It’s a moment of gravity, but a moment that is sadly necessarily at this time of year.
Next up comes the most genuinely heartwarming moment of the night. You may have seen the video of Paddy The Busker doing a cover of ‘Falling Slowly’, when Glen Hansard just happens to be passing by and drops a few coins into the young musician’s cup. It’s a delightful enough vignette as it is, but Glen goes one better by inviting Paddy centre-stage for a rendition of his Academy Award-winning song. I’ll say that again. An unknown busker. Who encountered Glen Hansard three weeks ago. Finds himself doing an Academy Award-winning song, on stage in front of hundreds of people. Where else would you get it, eh? The man’s generosity knows no bounds.
We’re into the home straight by now. ‘Grace Beneath The Pines’ is lovingly reimagined, as is ‘Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting’, while Glen teases us with a few bars from Cohen’s 'Bird On The Wire’.
The highlight of the night comes at the very end of the proper set. Glen gives us a cover of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’, which is packed to the rafters with soul. He slips a section of Mic Christopher’s ‘Hey Day’ in there too and the crowd go wild for it. It’s as rousing a way as I could think of, to ‘end’ the night.
After a short bit of play-acting, Glen returns with the legendary Begley family and we’re treated to some airs from the folks who know how to do it best. It’s a communal way to lead into the finale of what amounts to a three and a half hour show. A polka and a smile and we’re straight into ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’. Glen seems reluctant to leave. We all are. I’m half-anticipating we’ll just stay on until the next night, where there’ll be a shift change, and the next night’s concert-goers can take over. Either way, when we finally shuffle out it’s clear that this stage is Glen's for the taking any time he plays on it. He’s a magical performer.