Glen Hansard kicked off his North American “Didn’t He Ramble” tour November 9 at L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, and when he took the stage, the roaring applause of a sold-out crowd was there to greet him.
With a gracious smile and a friendly wave, Hansard took his spot at the very edge of the stage to sing “Grace Beneath The Pines.” There was no need for a microphone; Hansard’s voice is a force. It’s perfectly trained to project clearly, loudly, emotionally. Couple that with the fact that the Frank Gehry-designed venue has the best acoustics in Los Angeles, and you have an enviable combination.
Glen Hansard has been performing for over thirty years, first as a young teen busking on the streets of Dublin, then as frontman for Irish band The Frames, followed by The Swell Season, his collaboration with Marketa Irglova. He has also toured with Eddie Vedder, and most recently as a solo performer. All of this has served as great training to becoming an incredible engaging entertainer.
Hansard’s on-stage banter and quipsâ€”as well as his lighthearted requests for the audience to sing along or clapâ€”are the cherry on top of what is already a powerful show. At the core of the show, we have Hansard’s moving lyrics and expertly crafted music performed by a band of talented musicians (the songwriter is touring with a guitarist, keyboardist, drummer, as well as a trio of string players and a trio of horn players). And there’s also, of course, his voice: few can match its genuine warmth and raw emotion.
Hansard aims to not merely entertain by putting on a good show; he intends to engage the audience and celebrate togetherness. Because of he gorgeous acoustics of the concert venue, Hansard asked the audience if the whole show should be played acoustically. He said, “Everyone has told me this is the best venue in Los Angeles. I’m afraid we are too loud for it.”
Before he sang “Stay The Road,” the humble Hansard took a moment to recognize the level of devotion present in the room, as well as the hardships of touring life. He said, “I want to sing this for everybody who is on a stage right now, anyone who is in a band, on the road, loading gear. I hope that when they get to the venue the people they meet will be nice, get them a beer. I’m blessed tonight.” Several crowd members replied by shouting out, “I love you, Glen.”
In his typical humorous way, Glen explained, “Love is such a big word. Love is a mystery and will not be rationalized. A friend explained that songs are proof that love doesn’t work. That really fucked me up. I’ve been living in ruins ever since.”
Hansard’s setlist showed great dynamic range: he and his band ripped through a thunderous version of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” from the “Once” soundtrack, followed by the more quiet “Bird of Sorrow,” and “Back Broke.” During “Bird of Sorrow,” I heard the woman next to me sniffling, so I peeked over and saw tears streaming down her cheeks. A few minutes later, I heard a man behind me blowing his nose. I must admit, I got chocked up with big, fat tears welling up in my eyes. What a gift Hansard has.
One of the most moving performances of the night was Hansard’s stripped-down performance of “McCormack’s Wall.” Hansard explained the origin of the song: “This is a song of apology to a dear friend, a great Irish songwriter. I did a stupid thing. We met for tea and a chat. And it went really well and we went for a pint. And when that pub closed down, we went for another pint at another pub. Then we went off into the country to find the house of the great tenor John McCormack and romance showed its face. I was enjoying my time so much with Lisa that I never told her I had a girlfriend. So this song is an apology. She also wrote a song which is not so kind.” With a chuckle, he added, “Yeah, you should hear that song.”
Toward the end of the night, the very polite audience finally stood up from their seats to dance to “Lonely Deserter.” Hansard said, “You can stay standing for the rest of the night.” The crowd remained standing to witness Hansard perform “Say It To Me Now,” and “Gold” from the rear balcony of the concert hall.
Hansard’s encore consisted of the Irish ballad “The Auld Triangle,” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Passing Through.” He was joined onstage by his whole band and touring crew while they all took turns singing different sections of the songs. It was a truly incredible night of gorgeous music.