Glen Hansard (with Barry McCormack & Mic Christopher)
Review of their gig in Whelan's, Dublin, 4 Aug 2001
Another packed Whelan's. Another Hansard solo gig.
Another Mic Christopher support slot.
There's something eerily familiar about the new Irish songwriter revolution. Like how this was essentially the same performance that Glen Hansard put in at the club a year ago and, despite the release of a new Frames album, little - from the crowd to the setlist - seems to have changed.
Despite his constant reassurances - breaking things down from within, indie perseverance etc - the time must soon come for Glen Hansard to face the question - if'For The Birds' doesn't break through, wither then for the Ireland's biggest independent band? A regular Friday night club slot in Dublin's indie bunker?
On this Friday night, however, such thoughts appear to be far from the mind of those assembled in Whelan's. The omens are good - Hansard's most intense performances in the recent past have been without the Frames. And freed from the constraints of the band (and perhaps the expectations of a 'The Frames - For Two Nights Only' billing) he'll pay looser, further and harder.
Support on the night was provided by the interesting Barry McCormack, who confronted a pissed-up Friday night crowd well, and Mic Christopher, who didn't. The latter's demands for complete silence were rightly met with derision; if Mic remembers his days with the Mary Janes - he'll know the songs should speak for themselves.
Then Glen. Opening with 'Lay Me Down' - which sounds weaker in solo performance than on single - started the audience whispering along with the lyrics. He went on to play a number of songs from the (frankly downbeat) 'For The Birds', which produced a levels of audience devotion unseen since - well, the last Hansard gig.
These songs - 'Headlong', 'The Early Bird', 'Santa Maria' - are neat and evocative tunes of loss, redemption, guilt, forgiveness. But in spite of Hansard's clear commitment to their performance - the 'on cue' audience love-a-long seemed closer to a twee folk hootenanny than a cutting edge rock gig. Any sense of spontaneity, rawness or innovation is hindered when the show becomes, as this one did at stages, a fan club social night.
Indeed, Hansard seemed to enjoy himself more, and certainly produced more intense performances - when he moved to interpreting a series of well chosen covers. His performance of Van Morrison's 'Astral Week' was astounding - breathing new life into a song that this reviewer had long confined to the coffee table.
Likewise his closing the night with a raw interpretation of Tom Waits' 'Jesus' Blood' - a song uncannily close in tone and theme to much of 'For The Birds'. This provided the one instance of moving audience involvement on the night - a genuinely uplifting chorus of '?never failed me yet?' caught the attention of even the most cynical and drunk of the five hundred present.
And that was that. Of course the usual staples were all present in between -
'Revelate', 'Seven Day Mile' etc., and quite a forced version of 'Star Star' - performed
as they have been for the last three years. These are bread and butter to Frames
fans - they reacted accordingly.
But the most interesting and charged aspects of Glen Hansard's performance remained his interpretations of other people's songs. Perhaps this is because, as a performer, it seems the only way he can escape the routine expectation of his (devoted) audience. In Ireland (and particularly, in Whelan's) the challenge of facing up to, and testing an audience, has been removed. His amazing set onDylan's Kilkenny bill proved that Glen Hansard plays best when stakes are high.
When the stakes are low, as they were at Whelan's, he does a routine job with occasional moments of inspiration amid the standard sing-along. At this stage, both Hansard, and his audience, deserve a little more from each other.