It’s hard to go past a magical Monday evening at the Sydney Opera House, under the light of a full moon with one of Ireland’s most successful and prolific singer-songwriters of all days on St Patrick’s Day. Tonight would be a night where Glen Hansard would showcase early material from The Frames right through to his most recent release Rhythmn and Repose.
It was a late start to the evening with opener Lisa O’Neill coming onstage at around 9:00pm. O’Neill is what I imagine to be an embodiment of a what you’d find in a quaint Irish pub; powerful and narrative-driven songwriting that comes from the heart like a punch to the gut. Vocally she’s strong with a yodel twinge and that distinctly Irish upper inflection. In her all too brief 5 song set we were treated to tales of love won and lost. Surprisingly her most recent record Same Cloth Or Not has even managed to go past the ears of a few of those in the audience tonight. There was one particularly enthusiastic crowd member that even gave her a one-man standing ovation. To her credit though if you didn’t end up with some chills courtesy of her track ‘England Has My Man’ then you were clearly missing something special during that performance.
Our man of the evening, Glen Hansard strolled out onto the stage to a rapturous and excitable crowd. Immediately engulfing the room with his commanding voice despite being onstage all alone.
There was holding Hansard back as he belted out “When your mind’s made up there’s no point trying to fight it” and we just sat there and felt the anguish he’s conveying with every breath.
One of his charms as a performer lies in his inability to tell a succinct story between songs, well he is Irish after all. He urges us all to enjoy the moment and to “surrender to the Green” and jokingly goes on about how the Irish built the Opera House, and were the ones who put the moon in the sky. Clearly the overall feeling in the room is that everybody was there to have a good night, and even though half the room was probably expat-Irish, it was clearly all sensible folk; none of that rowdy drunken overzealous heckling to be had. Even when Hansard tell us a story about going to a rather rowdy Irish pub and when the crowd tried to collectively shush the room for a performer and was promptly told by an old man that if he was good enough you wouldn’t need to. It felt like the audience knew Hansard required no shushing. It’s in the quieter more sombre moments of the evening – like when he’s breaking our hearts dedicating ‘Bird of Sorrow’ to his father – that the respect and admiration of this performer can be seen by the deathly quiet room.
For the first half of his set he was onstage alone but from the song ‘Wedding Ring’ onwards he’s accompanied by a string quartet and other members of The Frames to fill out the sound. ‘Talking With Wolves’ sounded particularly luscious and beautiful with the strings and Joe Doyle’s subtle bass lines. The other highlight of the evening was having Hansard invite a random audience member (Lara) up onstage to perform one of his biggest hits ‘Falling Slowly’ from the Once soundtrack. Lara did such a wonderful job of it she scored a standing ovation from the room too.
The treats didn’t stop there with Hansard emptying the stage and stepping away from the microphone to sing ‘Say It To Me Now’ completely acoustically. As the show comes closer to the end, Lisa O’Neill returns to sing a song about an Elvis puppet she once made, and the entire band join in on a ridiculous Irish ditty I wish I knew the proper name of. When the show finally does end at not far off midnight I suspect the only reason we’re not treated to more songs or an encore is due to curfew, as the loud stomping and cheering in the room kept going well after house lights switched back on.
I’m genuinely surprised that more people aren’t aware of Glen Hansard, he’s as proficient a songwriter and performer as some of his counterparts like Bruce Springsteen, Elliot Smith or one of his own name-dropped friends – Eddie Vedder. I honestly think he deserves to be considered in amongst these peers, he’s so captivating to watch and the depth and range of his narrative songs is vast. At least those in attendance at the Sydney Opera House can bear witness to that talent and I’m sure all would concur with my judgement.
We have been spoilt having him perform here every few years of late and I hope this trend will continue.