Mrs. Speculator and I went to see Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova last week. It was by far one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I’ve found over time that smaller venues are really great for concerts, and they seem to invoke something from the performer to be in such an intimate setting. I know this is pretty much an axiom of performance, but I really have not been to many small venues before. While the concert hall where they performed is not tiny, it only holds maybe 1500 people, if that, and they are close to the stage on three sides. At one point, Hansard looked up to see a balcony of people looking down on him from his right and whirled to find even more in a similar position on his left. At first he seemed taken aback, then he bobbed his head and repeated what appears to be his personal refrain, “Cool.”
I’m trying very hard not to focus on Hansard, though it is pretty clear that he is the driving force behind the band’s work. Irglova seems to be a steadying influence on the band, and after nearly every song, Hansard moves to her side to speak to her. And she has a wonderful ethereal voice that perfectly matches his grounded earthy tones, which still range from low growling to musical shrieks beyond the range of most men not named Steve Perry. But the concert also clearly puts the focus on Hansard—he is the front man and the speaker, as well as the lead singer on most of the songs. And one delightful aspect of him came out as well—the man is a storyteller, which may be the cause or effect of the style of his music. The spaces between each song are filled with Hansard’s story-telling and commentary on his daily life on the road. He spoke intimately with an audience of 1500, making it feel like a performance for a couple of hundred. It may be a very polished act, but it feels like someone you could sit down with and chat for hours—and by the end of the concert I found I really wanted to.
The music itself was marvelous, mixing as it did songs from the soundtrack to Once, songs from their first album and their forthcoming new one, as well as some from Hansard’s original group, the Frames. For good measure, he threw in some Pixies and Van Morrison as well. Irglova played the piano except for a couple of songs where she played acoustic guitar, and there was an instrumental piece as well featuring their violinist, who has released his own CD (and sadly, this was the one place Hansard’s accent really was unintelligible—and with good reason, his name is Colm Mac Con Iomaire). At one point, Hansard brought the stage manager out to play a song as well, and it was clear they had practiced together, as the entire band took part in an American folk song.
And if you haven’t heard the music yet…well, you’ve missed out. I find it described generally as alternative, but I still have no idea what that means. What amazes me is the eclectic mix of genres, from Celtic roots to classical to AC/DC. A lot of his songs are mixes that are inspired, going places that I would not have been able to predict but filled with emotional intensity. A couple of them make me weep at every listening. And this says nothing about his lyrics, which verge (and sometimes fall into) the utterly poetic, well-suited to the instrumentation.
And clearly, between his conversations with his audience, sometimes beseeching their input to him, and the powerful music, he has reached an audience. The one we were a part of were amazed and exuberant, feeding him support and him returning his stories and music, creating a perfect circle of artistic endeavor. There’s no way I can’t go see them again, whenever I can—and while they have taken off on the European leg of their tour, I cannot recommend highly enough that any fan of good music or simple powerful storytelling find a way to see them whenever possible.