Glen Hansard stormed the international stage when he appeared in the low-budget Irish film Once in 2007. Responsible for bands The Frames and The Swell Season, his appearance at the Byron Bay Bluesfest and additional sideline shows have been highly anticipated by many.
Tasked with warming up the occupants of the packed seats in Her Majesty’s Theatre is Lisa Hannigan. Tiny of stature and seemingly meek, a chatty crowd could have been a challenge for a lesser performer.
As Hannigan begins finger-picking on her mandolin, not one person in the room can look away. Technically brilliant and equally moving, she holds the audience suspended with each angelic phrase.
Commenting on the number of things in this country that can kill you, she offers a heartfelt “Safe Travels, Don’t Die” and dedicates it to Adelaide.
As commanding as she is graceful, Lisa Hannigan was the perfect act to set the tone for the night. And what a night it was…
Glen Hansard is an honest songwriter. A gripping performer, his lyrics paint pictures of moments so real, they could have happened to you.
Playing a mixture of new and old songs, Hansard’s set-list spanned his steady career.
Opening with new croons “You Will Become” and “Maybe Not Tonight,” the audience is given a taste of a different side to Hansard; a countrified edge – think Nebraska-era Springsteen – begins to emerge.
“Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” was a work in optimism as it built up to a climactic peak before bursting into the raw and guttural Aretha Franklin classic –“Respect”
“Philander” told of the difficulties of adolescent love and it’s biggest challenge – finding a room to steal away to.
It’s easy to see Hansard’s weatherworn guitar as a weapon, shell-shocked with large holes, it proudly bears the scars of battle. Seemingly magical, the veil is lifted when a trusty roadie brings a perfectly tuned replica to replace it after a violent rendition of “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”
Swell Season songs like “Leave” and “Lies” get the audience fired up and a few fans are heard singing along.
Gracing the audience with an extended encore, Hansard unplugged his guitar and sang without his microphone as if busking once more on Dublin’s cold streets.
The power in his voice was soul-shattering, the audience so quiet you could hear each baited breath, all present made to feel as though he was singing to each person directly.
Having performed together since 1990, the ensemble’s closeness is obvious. Hansard and The Frames – still completely un-aided by microphones – they stood on the edge of the stage performing an angelic cover of Interference’s “Gold.”
‘”O Sleep”, penned by Lisa Hannigan and performed as a duet, is the perfect combination of Hansard’s raw vocal power and Hannigan’s silky harmony.
The audience cheered to the opening bars of “Falling Slowly” applauding Hannigan, who sang the parts made famous by Markéta Irglová
– noticeably missed during the Swell Season songs, it seemed by no one more than Hansard himself.
Closing with an all-cast sing-along of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Passing Through’, the audience joined in for each chorus.
The concert spanned three-and-a-half hours, the end only arriving after venue staff began yelling “get them out of here” over the jubilant crowd… and the band were still playing as punters were ushered out.