Friday, March 23, 2018
House of Blues, Boston
I love Glen Hansard so much. The best show I’ve ever seen was back in 2004 at the State Theatre when Glen opened for Damien Rice. Glen got his start busking in Dublin, so his voice and presence are both powerful. This night, though, was an absolute disappointment. It’s getting harder to see Glen live now that Once the Musical, which Glen wrote the music and lyrics for, is so successful on Broadway, so I decided I needed to get myself to Boston for this show even though he played the House of Blues, which is not my favorite. Darlingside played the same night in Portland, Maine, and, in retrospect, I should have gone to see them instead. I was bummed that this night became such a mess.
My friend Aimsel often takes the bus to Boston for shows, and I admire her commitment to the environment, so I decided to take the bus. I always drive to Boston for shows, but since this was a Friday, I knew I’d hit tons of traffic and it would be a pain. I checked all of Glen’s social media accounts, and they posted every day of the tour that doors were at 7, there was no opener, and that Glen would be on stage at 8. The Facebook event said the same thing, so I believed them. I ran into a former student in the bus station, and it was great to catch up. When Jane and I parted ways, she joked that I should not talk to strangers and should be aware of my surroundings. I’d chaperoned Jane’s school trips to Scotland and Costa Rica, so we both laughed about the role reversal. This unexpected happiness was almost the end of the positives for the rest of the night, though.
I made my way on the T over to Kenmore from South Station in about half an hour. I was in line outside House of Blues at 6:20 PM for 7 PM doors, and there were maybe 40 people ahead of me. That’s when I noticed a sign outside the House of Blues restaurant that said show at 8:30 PM. The last bus to Maine leaves South Station at 11:15 PM. I had to be on it so I could get home and get some rest before the Brunswick March for Our Lives event that my students helped organize.
Getting into the venue was quick, and I found an awesome spot front and center behind someone shorter than me along the barricade. Ella McDonald is a Tufts student and musician and this was her first Glen show. I was so excited for her, and I was so glad to have an unobstructed view of the stage over her head, too. A foursome from Canada who’d driven down from New Brunswick joined the fold, and we compared bands we love (Penny & Sparrow was top on the list) and have really compatible taste. So far, this night was so good. Then it was 8 o’clock, and no one came to the stage. I figured that even if Glen played for 2 solid hours and started at 8:30, I’d still easily make it back to the bus with time to spare. I was so wrong.
A little after 8:30, Glen and an 11-piece band arrived on stage. If I can’t see Glen solo, which is my preference, I’ll take a band with both string and horn sections. Glen played “The Gift” first, which is easily a top favorite. I am so glad I had those minutes of happiness, because they were fleeting. Since people had arrived early expecting Glen on stage at 8, guess where they’d spent the time difference? Yep, at the bar. So people were drunk before the show even started. If you’ve ever been to a show at the House of Blues in Boston, you know that if someone is talking anywhere in the big room, you’re going to hear it. And we did. And so did Glen. I stopped keeping track of the number of times he stopped singing to scold people who were talking loudly at one of the bars. He even paused during a song and told someone shouting at a bar upstairs to “fuck off.” Glen was clearly frustrated, and it was frustrating as an audience member who’d worked really hard to get to this show to have the vibe turn negative so quickly.
The crowd settled down a bit for a few songs. “When Your Mind’s Made Up”was awesome live and the vibe started to improve a bit. Almost immediately, people close behind me started yelling “we need a doctor.” Someone had collapsed. I assume they’d fainted, which happens at shows, but this person stayed down. A nurse broke through the crowd to help, but no one stood up. People shouted to call 911. Glen spoke to ask the crowd to give them space and said we’d wait for the ambulance, which was absolutely the right call, but it took a solid 20 minutes. He sang “Bird of Sorrow” (another favorite) afterwards, and the lyrics–“well I’m callin’ to you, please get off the floor”–seemed too well planned given the recent medical event. We chuckled, and Glen was sure to add after the song that he saw the ill person leave and felt sure they were going to be fine and asked us to send our best energy to them.
For me, the show never recovered after this point. The whole night was disjointed, and I felt Glen just couldn’t get into a good rhythm, which was not his fault and was probably as frustrating for him as it was for us. My concert friend Bob, who joined me, insists this wasn’t a terrible show, and thinks I was just stressed about catching my bus home, but I disagree.
There were a couple of high points before I had to leave early, including genuinely nice remarks Glen offered about Woody Guthrie before covering his song, “Vigilante Man,” and the very sweet moment when Glen’s trombonist, Curtis Fowlkes, walked up to the microphone to sing a lovely rendition of “Wedding Ring” that I’m sure made more than just me a little misty eyed.
I’d told myself I would leave at 10:45 no matter what to give myself 30 minutes to catch the last bus home, and Glen just happened to play the first chords of “Falling Slowly” at that exact moment. Resigned to missing his best-known song, I sadly waved goodbye to my neighbors and tried not to interrupt the song for other people while also booking it out to Landsdowne Street. I was lucky to see a taxi coming my way a minute later that got me to South Station where my bus was waiting with 14 minutes to spare. It made me wish I’d stayed the three minutes to hear “Falling Slowly,” but I was already cutting it too close for my comfort and made the right call for me.
Since the show was supposed to start at 8, I was really surprised to learn from Bob that I’d missed SEVEN more songs after I left. Bob said Glen got into a groove and the show bounced back after I left. I’m glad it did. My friend Kay was in the crowd (I found out a few days later), and she said she didn’t make it back to her hotel across the street until almost midnight. Quite a long night–especially for a show with no opening act!
I’d see Glen again in a heartbeat, because he is magic. This was just a night when too many things when wrong that were no one’s fault, except the loud drunk people scattered throughout the many bars at the House of Blues. I can pretty confidently say I’ll actively avoid that venue in the future–even if it hosts my favorite musicians–because it’s not a venue designed to support active listening, which is crucial to me at a show.
I thought this was a really stressful, disappointing night. If this was your first Glen show, I hope you see him again in a venue that shows musicians more respect. Glen deserves it and the audience does, too. No matter the circumstances, Glen is amazing, and I hope you all have a perfect Glen concert experience someday. They are worth waiting for.