Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Berklee Performance Arts Center, Boston
Here’s the conclusion of this post for those of you who can’t handle reading much more:
If you don’t know Glen Hansard’s music, you are missing out. If you know Glen’s music but haven’t seen him live, you’re missing out even more. I can’t wait until the next show. This was definitely one of the highlights of my whole year of concerts. I came across this video of Glen’s full set at Breminale in Germany a couple of months ago. He played a very similar set list there and watching this would give you a good sense of the show I saw.
Now here’s the beginning:
I am by nature not a spontaneous person. I’d looked into getting a ticket to see Glen Hansard at Berklee soon after they went on sale, but there was nothing available particularly close to the stage. As you know, proximity matters a lot to me, so I decided I’d rather skip the show altogether than sit far away. Glen is easily one of my top favorite singer-songwriters. The best show I’ve ever seen was on April 19, 2004 at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine. Even though I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of shows, I never hesitate for a moment whenever people ask me which one was my favorite. Glen and The Frames, his band from Ireland that’s been together for over two decades, opened for fellow Irishman, Damien Rice. It was a magic evening of heart wrenching, powerful music—and I was front and center, literally leaning up against the stage (not even a barricade). I was so moved that I couldn’t even speak for a while after the show ended. It was a night I really didn’t want to end.
Oh. Glen Hansard is often someone that people don’t know by name. Glen acted in The Commitments back in 1991. He’s played with The Frames since about the same time. Ultimately, everyone knows his incredibly beautiful hit song “Falling Slowly” from the lovely film, Once. That song has been performed on every singing and dancing reality show on television since the film came out in 2006. You’ve heard it. Trust me.
My concert friend Bob sees way more shows than I do, but he works with dead people (really) while I need to stay chipper and alert to teach our future. We met at an Iron & Wine show (Marketa Irglova from Once and The Swell Season was singing with them on that tour, actually) and he gave me a ticket to join him for a sold out Adele show in Boston with the Civil Wars. We’ve been friends in music for about two years now. I met Chris of www.bostonthroughmyeyes.com at Newport Folk Festival because of his lovely partner, Rebecca. It turns out that the world really is microscopic, because Bob met Chris and Rebecca the night before I did. Now we all see music together. I have a growing list of friends that I met at concerts who I actually keep in touch with. I like how much music can bring people together. Anyhow, Bob texted me on Monday night that tickets in the first three rows had just been released for Glen’s show. He and Chris had met Caroline a few nights before at the Bon Iver show, so I texted her to see if she wanted to go, too. It turns out that we were able to get seats right next to them in the center of the third row. I can’t think of many artists that I’d motivate like that and drive an extra 5-6 hours on a school night to see at the drop of the hat. Glen Hansard, however, is definitely one of them. I felt that it was cosmically the right thing to do and it turned out to be an amazing night.
Caroline and I met at school and drove down to Boston in the rain. It let up when we approached Boston. We parked at the Dalton Street garage and went in search of the burrito place that I remembered was right across the street from Berklee. At least that’s where it used to be. I texted my friend Rebecca to ask her where it was and got her prompt reply too late—turns out that boloco had moved barely around the corner, but by then we were in too much of a hurry to get to the show and had decided on something else. Bob texted me and brought his friend Emily to meet us at the window we were sitting at. We joined them outside and met Chris and found our seats in the third row. If you’ve ever been to Berklee’s Performing Arts Center, you know how long the walk from the back to the stage is, so being that close up is really special.
The Lost Brothers opened the show. They wore adorable crinkled suits and both played acoustic guitar. I love how humbled they were by the experience—they said they were used to playing at bars in Ireland with sawdust on the floor. One of them said that their “mum” wasn’t going to believe the pictures from the night because the venue was so impressive. It was such a sweet moment for them, and I was glad to see them. Their third album, The Passing of the Night, is out now and I enjoyed their finger picking and harmonies. They covered Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town,” which they dedicated to Glen and the band and the crew. Their last song—“Under the Turquoise Sky”—was lovely.
Glen took the stage and sat down at the piano to play “The Storm, It’s Coming” off of his newest album, Rhythm and Repose. Quite a large band surrounded him, actually—I think there were up to a dozen musicians on stage at times. A great string section enriched the song. There was even a horn section! He played “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”—definitely one of my favorites from Rhythm and Repose, and played a bit of “Respect” towards the end. “Philander” was incredible. The fullness of the sound was so impressive. And what Glen Hansard admirer sitting that close (oh, I forgot to mention the married woman sitting in front of me who I negotiated with about which one of us should be able to marry him) wouldn’t love to hear him sing the lyric in that song, “And I’m always gonna love you/I’m always gonna stay” even if the song title means that’s really unlikely?
They immediately moved into my favorite song from the Once soundtrack—“When Your Mind’s Made Up.” Oh my—it’s so good. Glen and the band really played hard on the song and one of Glen’s strings broke. He finished the song with the five strings he had left. He told us that “Low Rising” was about optimism and how if it stops “jingling jangling around in the bottom of your heart you’re f*ck#d.” “Low Rising” is definitely one of my favorite songs off of Strict Joy, which is Glen’s project, The Swell Season, with Marketa Irglova from Once. “Bird of Sorrow” was next and it is sad and beautiful. I like the lyrics “Well you been kneeling in the dark for far too long/You’ve been waiting for that spark but it hasn’t come/I’m calling to you please get off the floor/A good heart will find you again.” I know this shouldn’t surprise me anymore since I’ve seen Glen a few times now, but he plays with awe inspiring, tremendous power and intensity. There’s a sincerity and autobiography that runs through his music that makes me feel like I “get” him not only as a musician, but also as a person.
The band left the stage and Glen played “Leave” solo. Woah. The lyrics are heart piercing—“And I hope you feel better/Now that it’s out/What took you so long/And the truth has a habit/Of falling out of your mouth/But now that it’s come/If you don’t mind/Leave, leave.” Glen asked us to sing with him on “Back Broke. Chris was able to take a video of it over on bostonthroughmyeyes.com. (Here are his pictures from the night, too.) I can hear myself laughing and singing on it. You can hear Glen telling us to imagine that we are beautiful waify Russian angels leaning over the edge of a boat in icy waters and we’re warning people about icebergs. He said the song’s about being smashed and broken but having the one you love next to you. It was beautiful.
He did an amazing cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” using a pedal for percussion. I wrote “Holy S%#T” (well, not quite that) and “INSANE” in my notes during that song. He tried to start “Moving On,” but couldn’t remember the first line. Someone in the audience shouted it out for him. He gave us a one-minute audience stretch break after that. I’ve never had that happen before, but it felt good. I love the lyrics to “This Gift” and “Races,” which were the next two songs. Justin (the birthday boy) played the secondhand accordion he’d bought the day before and it sounded great. They wrapped their set with a very powerful “Fitzcarraldo.” Even though I knew they’d be back for an encore, my heart sunk a little bit when they left the stage.
I’d had to go to the bathroom for over an hour, so I decided to seize the moment of everyone giving Glen and the band a standing ovation to essentially jog there so I wouldn’t miss any of the encore. I’m telling you this because it meant that I ended up sitting even closer to the stage when I returned. There were two seats on the aisle in the second row that no one ever filled, and since it would have been challenging to get back to my assigned seat, I just sat there when I returned. Colm Mac Con Iomaire from The Frames (who were all in the band) had just wrapped up a beautiful violin piece when I took my new seat. I was stunned and so excited when Glen joined him on stage, unplugged, and they walked to the very edge of the stage just feet from me.
Glen and Colm played “Say It To Me Now” and “Gold” unplugged from the edge of the stage. I learned that “Gold” isn’t about a woman—it’s about the earth. Listen again with that in mind and it changes things. Apparently they had just started their US tour and Glen found a receipt with Ziggy Marley’s name on it in his bunk showing that Ziggy and his band were the previous bus tenants. It clearly inspired their cover of “Get Up, Stand Up.” They did a Marvin Gaye cover of “Don’t Do It” that rocked and featured a very talented horn section that Glen told us had been part of Levon Helm’s band.
I thought that was going to be their last song, but Glen said he’d been asked by a worthy person to sing “Falling Slowly.” About a minute into the song, just before the chorus, he leaned down to a young woman sitting in the front row and asked her to join him. A couple of people got it on video and you can hear the audience gasp with surprise. In fact, on the second video, I can hear myself say, “shut up!” when he invites her up. Within seconds of him asking her to join him on stage, I was holding back tears. I think I was initially jealous, because that would be an epic life experience to have, but it was also such a beautiful moment to witness. Added to that, the idea that one of my musical idols who I love and respect so much would invite a random audience member to share a song with him moved me. I got to talk to her (her name is Samantha) after the show and she told me it was completely unplanned. She was still shaking.
If you don’t know Glen Hansard’s music, you are missing out. If you know Glen’s music but haven’t seen him live, you’re missing out even more. I can’t wait until the next show. This was definitely one of the highlights of my whole year of concerts.