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Music review: Glen Hansard


A 10-piece ensemble comprising strings, brass, piano, drums, bass and guitars can make a mighty noise but there are also wonderful opportunities to use them with delicacy, which renowned singer-composer Glen Hansard demonstrated in a stirring set at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

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Hansard is known as both a solo performer and member of The Frames, and for previously performing as half of The Swell Season with Czech pianist Markéta Irglová . He has had musical acting roles in movies The Commitments and Once. The song ‘Falling Slowly’ from the latter film won an Oscar, and the story was adapted to become a multi-award winning Broadway musical.

Hansard has a strong reputation for live shows. With only his battered guitar as accompaniment, he provides soulful and nuanced renditions of songs, which one might think would be lost in the fuller performance that a big band presents. He does like things loud. The beauty of having the large ensemble is that he gets to choose his moments for roaring volume, and in this case to lean more on strings or brass as he prefers, when not lustily combining them all. He can still pull back to more vulnerable and softer offerings. Mind you, Hansard does tend to start even tender songs quietly and then ramp up their emotional intensity and volume, solo or not.

The song list adhered fairly closely to the concerts in larger venues elsewhere this year with the same line-up, but with a couple of unexpected and notably intimate inclusions that won the audience, but more of that shortly.

He began with the lilting ‘Winning Streak’ and ‘My Little Ruin’. One expected and got ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’ and ‘Falling Slowly’ (this dedicated to ‘my very good friend Markéta Irglová’), both familiar from Once. Less expected were ‘Suspicious Minds’, seemingly grabbed from a few stray notes and then extended into a full song, complete with Elvis moves, and a plaintive take on Woody Guthrie’s ‘Vigilante Man’, with some new lines about Donald Trump’s father as a villain.

Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ has been given an inventive bruising by Hansard’s band in recent shows. For those used to a more genteel treatment, that can be a shock. This night, he sang it with only his double-bass player as support. Though it still reached a mighty, thrashing climax, it seemed fitting and was a winner with the crowd. For sensitivity, there was still ‘Her Mercy’, a wonderful song of love and forgiveness.

A surprise was when Hansard took his guitar and stepped away from the mike, standing at the lip of the stage for an unplugged song. This was repeated at the very end of the show but with all of the players (bar the pianist) lined up to sing. It was a joyful way to close the evening.

Hansard is a dynamic and personable singer with a talented band that can handle soul, folk rock and blues. Two and a half hours on stage, including six songs as an encore, was enough to satisfy any fan.

Glen Hansard
Her Majesty’s Theatre
20 October 2016

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