Glen Hansard preaches to the converted at memorable church gig
Onstage between songs at the Union Chapel, a beautiful converted church in Angel, Glen Hansard came across as a loveable everyman: down-to-earth, humble and forthcoming with a hilarious anecdote set in a Soho nail salon earlier that day. It’s little surprise that Hansard kicked off his musical career as a street performer in Dublin with just a beat-up guitar and powerfully raw voice. Then in 2008, he reprised his busking role in the cult film Once, unexpectedly winning an Oscar for Best Original Song with co-star Marketa Irglova. The duo became known as the Swell Season, but now Hansard is striking out alone with his first solo album and tour.
Opening with an austere, keyboard-led “The Storm, It’s Coming”, Hansard and his sizeable band soon warmed to the task in hand, mining a rich seam of laid-back “Tupelo Honey” soul. Recent single Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting was combined with an impassioned cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect, and the Swell Season’s Low Rising was fleshed out with Memphis-style horns. This default setting was impressive enough but the versatility and musicianship on show was something to behold, ranging from Joy Division-inspired grooves on Talking With The Wolves to Arcade Fire euphoria during The Gift.
Hansard’s understated charm and enthusiasm were infectious throughout the set, and he wasn’t afraid of turning to other artists’ material in order to lift the occasion ever higher. Although his own Bird Of Sorrow proved to be the emotional fulcrum of the set – building from a whisper to an all-out cathartic release and back again in breathtaking fashion – it was his solo take on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks which truly won over the crowd: a whirlwind of ecstatic vocals and frantic strumming which helped explain the gaping holes in Hansard’s acoustic guitar.
With the enraptured audience on their feet and curfew looming ever closer, the musicians closed ranks at the front of the stage and serenaded the crowd with an un-amplified cover of The Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, before wrapping things up with a fantastic, dream-like rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Drive All Night. Despite the reverent surroundings, the crowd was more than happy to join in with a communal sing-a-long and the amount of mutual goodwill at climax was bordering on excessive. This was a memorable gig by an immensely talented artist in a revered setting – both crowd and band could have carried on well into night.
For more information visit the Glen Hansard official website.
Watch the video for Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting here: