- 04 Jul 19
For four hours, on a balmy summer’s evening in Dublin, a sold out 3Arena is introduced to what may as well be titled ‘Ed & Glen’s Excellent Adventure’.
Throughout the performance the packed-to-capacity audience is treated to slide-shows, tales of warmhearted bonhomie and a trip to Glen’s adopted hometown of Celbridge; the customary knees-up to Luke Kelly’s ’The Auld Triangle’, and surprise appearances from friends both young and old.
It appears that the Pearl Jam frontman and our own Glen Hansard have developed quite the bromance over the past few years. It makes sense. They’re both the charismatic frontmen of beloved alternative rock bands, they’ve both launched successful solo endeavours in the wake of award-winning soundtrack work, and both would look at you askance if you were ever to suggest that they should give anything less than 200% to every audience they step in front of.
When in need of a rousing support act for his solo tours, Hansard has long been Eddie’s go-to man. He popped up at Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 2011, most notably duetting with Vedder on ‘Falling Slowly’ and singing back up with super-group Temple Of The Dog – fronted by the late-great Chris Cornell – and has been with Vedder ever since. This evening he amiably serves as a Jack-of-all-trades; backing Vedder on guitar, piano, tambourine and vocals.
But, before all that; there’s the small matter of his own opening performance. With the audience still finding their seats, Hansard makes his entrance at the very un-rock & roll hour of 7:30pm sharp. An immediate hush falls as he sits at the piano and gently plays the opening chords to ‘Bird Of Sorrow’ from 2012’s Rhythm And Repose. By the time he gets to the heart-wrenching scream of “I’m not leavin’ you yet,” he has our full attention. How does he manage to summon up that level of emotion seemingly at will? He’s barely been sitting down for two minutes.
He picks up the guitar for the gently strummed ‘High Hope’, before giving it a sound thrashing during the thrilling conclusion to the Swell Season’s ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’. The song builds to such a cacophonous climax that the crowd are already back on their feet, stomping and cheering, having hardly gotten to warm their seats.
Introducing ‘Shelter’, Glen remarks: “One would think that shelter is a human right. Not in this country.” His disdain for Ireland’s former Minister For Housing is palpable. No less is his contempt for the government’s current failings in regard to Ireland’s epidemic homelessness problem. He recalls the promises made in the wake of the occupation of Apollo House, all of which have come to nothing, and mourns that the number of people still marooned in temporary accommodation has nearly doubled since Christmas of 2016.
After an impassioned speech like that, the songs that follow: an intimate ‘Grace Beneath The Pines’ sung a capella from the lip of the stage and a rousing rendition of The Frames' classic ‘Revelate’, take on a cathartic defiance. “Sometimes I need a revelation, sometimes it’s all too hard to take,” performer and audience in full voice. Asking how far people have travelled to be here for the concert, someone inevitably shouts ‘Cork!’ Glen jokingly dedicates the stomping travelling blues of ‘Way Back In The Way Back When’ to “all of the economic migrants from Cork with us tonight.”
Towards the end of the set Glen introduces us to two boys, Tom and Felix Doran, who he has been charged with babysitting after the show. Hardest working man in showbiz or wha’?! They look like a couple of preteen Peaky Blinders and take the lead on a raucous run-through of the Arthur Crudup by-way-of Elvis Presley classic, ‘That’s Alright Mama’. Sure, it’s more shouting than singing, but you can’t help but get swept up in the youthful exuberance of it all.
Before he closes his set with ‘This Gift’, Glen tells us that he brought Eddie to Celbridge for a day out yesterday ahead of the concert. “It was like Jesus Christ himself had landed in Kildare!” he laughs. Cars were apparently swerving all over the road at the sight of the pair and he’s sure that they’ve made the cover of the local paper. Having celebrated through the night, Glen was interrupted “just before going to bed at 11am,” by a knock on the door from a group of Pearl Jam fans eager to find out if Eddie was still there. His not unreasonable response: “Get the fuck off my lawn!”
As lab coat clad technicians make arrangements for the entrance of our headliner, we finally get a full look at the set-decor that’s been hidden under sheets since the gig started. The stage is flanked by shop dummies dressed as cheerleaders, sporting enormous bowling pin tiaras. A pair of glam-tastic silver platform boots rest atop the organ and, all-in-all, the intimate vibe is that of some random uncle’s 70s basement practice room. There’s old tape machines, vintage control decks and open suitcases (obviously adorned with The Who’s famous target logo); and racks upon racks of acoustic guitars, mandolins and ukuleles.
First to take the stage is the fantastically named Red Limo String Quartet, who we will later find out Eddie has kidnapped from the Netherlands. They kick off proceedings in style with a blast of classic Pearl Jam in the form of the Ten-era mega-hit, ‘Alive’. The crowd is already singing along when Eddie Vedder quietly makes his way onto the stage. His very entrance receives an extended standing ovation and, with a sheepish smile, he sits at the organ with his back to the audience for a low-key opening of new song ‘Cross The River’. The years since he hollered “I’m still alive” from the ramparts have certainly changed Vedder’s voice, but what’s clear tonight is that it lacks nothing of the power and potency it’s always had. If anything, now lower and more controlled, it’s an instrument he’s grown into.
As is tradition, during fan favourite ‘Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town’, Eddie relinquishes the line, “I just want to scream, ‘hello’”, to the crowd, in what is the first of many spine-tingling moments of reciprocity between performer and audience. The bellow with which the crowd attacks the word “hello!” must have been heard all across the capital. It leads to the second standing ovation of the night, and we’re only two songs in!
From here we dive into a mini-Pearl Jam set, with ‘I Am Mine’, a stunning, string adorned version of ‘Indifference’, ‘Just Breathe’, ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Wishlist’ all coming in quick succession. Before ‘Just Breathe’, one of the Jam’s sweetest love songs, Vedder remarks, “I saw you during Glen’s set and you looked like a bunch of crazy bastards. But, it’s great to be loved by crazy bastards… Just ask my wife! You can, she’s here. This song’s for her.”
Vedder dedicates his next song to a recently deceased friend. “Let’s see if we can conjure him up,” he says, before strumming the opening chords to Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’. It’s a fantastic tribute to the late-Heartbreaker, with the screen above the stage displaying pictures of him in his prime and one of him and Eddie sharing a moment onstage together.
Then, we’re out in the great wide open for a few songs from the soundtrack of Into The Wild. The lights dim and the background of the stage changes to a picture of a glowing tent out in the woods. He talks about Chris McCandless and wonders what songs the young man might have listened to on his travels through the American wilds. So, before ‘Far Behind’, he prefaces it with a song he thinks McCandless would have loved, U2’s Joshua Tree classic, 'In God’s Country'. Ah here, Eddie! You’re spoiling us now! ‘Guaranteed’ and ‘Rise’ both benefit from the beautiful string accompaniment of the Red Limo String Quartet and, on 'Guaranteed' in particular, their dreamy descending scales give it back some of its cinematic scope.
“If you’re lucky enough to have an Irishman for a best friend, then you have all the luck in the world,” Eddie tells us, before summoning Glen Hansard back to the stage. He praises the Ballymun native as someone who, “writes things that some of us don’t have the courage to. He has the blood and bones of a boxer and the heart of a lion… and he can fix a motorcycle!” With Glen at the organ, and with the help of the string quartet, they conjure up a stirring rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘My City Of Ruins’.
The set concludes with a trio of Pearl Jam classics, ‘Black’, ‘Corduroy’ and a manic tear-up for ‘Porch’. During ‘Corduroy’, Vedder motions to the string section that he might improvise a change in direction, but is quickly beaten back into line by an entire audience steam-rolling him as they take up the vocals for the middle-eight of, "Everything has chains, absolutely nothing’s changed…" Let that be a lesson, Mr Vedder. Some things are perfect the way they are.
With Eddie taking a break backstage, the string quartet plays beautifully over pictures of The Cliffs Of Moher and other Irish landmarks, before a picture of the Phil Lynott statue outside Bruxelle’s flashes onscreen and they lash into an amazing version of the rocking ‘Even Flow’. Viola player Rani Kumar takes the Mike McCready lead and shreds it to pieces. McCready would be proud. The slide-show continues with pictures of Ed and Glen outside Hansard’s home, and posing on a pair of battered looking motorbikes.
After ‘Betterman’ casually blows the roof off, Eddie and Glen join together for Hansard’s ‘Song Of Good Hope’. Vedder sings from the barrier, shaking the hands of everyone sat in the front row. Shortly after, Eddie says they’re going to attempt something inspired by the visit to Glen’s hometown. While there, they met a very stylish man who nearly crashed his car trying to speak to Eddie as he drove past. He lamented that he couldn’t make it to the gig as he had to look after his sick brother. As it turns out, the dapper gent, Brian Keville, is the frontman of a local Queen cover band, Qween. As tribute to Brian’s fidelity to his sick sibling, Eddie and Glen kick into ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ while pictures of Brian as Freddie Mercury are shown on the screen behind them.
The evening wraps up with the customary sing-along to Luke Kelly’s ‘The Auld Triangle’, this time aided by the return of the pre-teen Peaky Blinders and with Vedder throwing in his own verses that he has assembled on a handful of sheets of paper (He's my friend Glen Hansard, I've got questions, he's got answers...). ‘Hard Sun’ brings it all to a rocking conclusion, the full-band backing track played on one of the vintage looking tape machines. And, all that’s left is a quick encore of Neil Young’s ’Rocking In The Free World’, with all of the musicians and some of the crew behind the microphones, and featuring a sneaky cameo from Frames’ bassist, Joe Doyle.
It’s a testament to the talent of Hansard and Vedder, that they easily made a sold-out arena feel as intimate as a Sunday trad-session in the Cobblestone.