Glen Hansard at First Avenue, 9/29/12
Photo By Meredith Westin
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 29, 2012
At the start of Glen Hansard's enthralling two-hour set at First Avenue on Saturday night, the Irish singer/songwriter took a moment to say sorry to the crowd: "I feel like apologizing that we're playing such an early show tonight. Usually, we're just waking up around now." But there was no real reason for Glen to be apologetic at all about his stirring performance, as he and his stellar 10-piece backing band (featuring four members of the Frames, as well as a three-piece horn section from Levon Helm's band) gave life and breadth to songs from throughout Hansard's lengthy back catalog as well as his glorious new solo record, Rhythm And Repose, with some choice covers (including a Prince number) thrown in for good measure.
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The set began with a string of new songs, as Hansard took to the piano for a gorgeous, if a bit foreboding, version of "The Storm, It's Coming," before the rest of the band came out to join him. As the group got settled onto the packed stage, Glen was in the process of giving a bit of a backstory on "Talking With The Wolves" (as he would for nearly every song is the set) before he stopped himself, saying simply "There's a Harvest Moon out there tonight, so let's just sing this for the moon." The band laid down a smooth groove behind Hansard's simmering vocals, as he played a muted riff on his beat-to-hell acoustic guitar which he's probably had since his busking days. The crowd loved it, as did Hansard himself, who exuberantly said "That sounded good! Let's hear it again."
Tender versions of a horn-laden "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting" (which featured a spirited tag of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" during the coda) and a wistful and moody "Philander" showcased how terrific Hansard's new album is. He and the band were clearly settled in by this point, with Glen even joking a bit about their fabled surroundings, "This stage just makes you want to go "Owww!!" as he busted out some terrible Prince-like gyrations, which wouldn't be the last time he gave a nod to the Purple One on this evening.
"Here's a song about being in love with someone who just doesn't fucking listen," was Hansard's introduction to "When Your Minds Made Up," which sounded rich and robust with the full band arrangement. A gorgeous, impassioned version of "Low Rising" continued the strong start to the set, but it was a slow-burning, stunning rendition of "Bird Of Sorrow" which proved to be one of the astonishing highlights of the set. It was a decidedly crestfallen, piano-laden number about how someone who has given up needs to pick themselves off of the floor, and the track only grew in hope and passion as it went on before it erupted in raw emotion.
Photos By Meredith Westin
The band left Glen alone on stage at this point, as he delivered a rousing string of solo songs, starting with "Leave," which featured Hansard singing into his guitar pickup during the bold finish. "In These Arms" turned playful when Glen noticed the waitress making her rounds through the audience, saying "There's a lady with a light moving through the crowd. It's a beautiful thing, like a tiny ship lost at sea" in the middle of the song. But there was nothing lighthearted about Hansard's stirring cover of Van Morison's "Astral Weeks," which floored the crowd with its urgent intensity, with Glen even giving a nod to his one-time tourmate Eddie Vedder by tagging a line from Pearl Jam's "Smile" at the end.
The rest of the band rejoined him for a spirited rendition of "Moving On," with Hansard dedicating one of the assured verses to all the Democrats in the audience. Glen then took a moment to speak warmly to the crowd, "Thanks everybody, this is beautiful. I'm having a really good time. Thank you so much for your energy." He then effusively thanked the staff at First Ave for making him and the band so comfortable, before talking about how during soundcheck he teased a bit of Prince's "Sign 'O' The Times," saying that surely everybody that comes through here has to try and play it. When the sound guy assured him that no one has ever covered that here, Glen said "We decided to fucking learn how to play it."
And with Glen leading the way on electric guitar, the band tore through a funky rendition of "Sign 'O' The Times" which really gave the brass ensemble a chance to shine, as they even added the "sexy motherfucker, shaking that ass" line from Prince's "Sexy M.F." to the end of the fresh track. It was certainly a surprise addition to the set, and quite a memorable one as well. Glen abashedly said, "We're sorry Prince, we had to try it. We love you man." But again, there was no reason to apologize for anything during this wonderful performance."
Photos By Meredith Westin
"Now we're going to get back to some very white European music," Hansard then joked, before the band switched things up with "High Hope." Hansard and his mates really dug deep into their catalog for "Fitzcarraldo," the 1995 classic by the Frames. It featured a gorgeous string arrangement and plenty of passion by the band, who seemed thrilled to be playing the song again. The band stuck with the Frames material for a powerful run through of "Revelate" which sparked the end of the set. The song smoothly transitioned into "Star Star," which featured a "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" string arrangement, as well as Willy Wonka's "Pure Imagination" tag from Hansard, before the track evolved into a rousing outro where they covered dEUS' "Hotellounge." It was truly a wonderful moment.
After a restorative version of "Song Of Good Hope" ended the main set, Hansard came back out quickly to deliver a solo, unamplified acoustic version of "Say It To Me Now," which turned into a tender crowd singalong. The rest of the group rejoined Glen for a lively take on the Band's version of the Marvin Gaye classic, "Don't Do It," which again was led by the talented brass trio, who perfectly captured the song's upbeat swing.
With the 10 0'clock curfew time looming, Hansard had to cut short their planned encore just a bit, but managed to close out the night with another loving tribute to the dearly departed Levon Helm, as the group took vocal turns on an inspiring cover of the Band's "The Weight," with Hansard joyfully placing his stocking cap on whoever had to sing the next verse. Talk about passing the hat. It was a wonderful way to end a truly entertaining evening, but you could tell both the band and the crowd wanted more, which gives them all added reason to hopefully come back soon.
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Glen's music for a while now, but only caught one show by the Frames back in the day, so it was nice to see Hansard playing those songs with his old friends.
The Crowd: A full house of really respectful music fans who would have stayed there all night listening to Glen and the band play if they could have.
Overheard In The Crowd: "That stocking cap looks pretty stiff. I don't think I'd want it on my head."
Random Notebook Dump: It was sad to see all the great covers on the setlist which sadly went unplayed, like "Gold" by the Irish band Interference, "Drive All Night" by Bruce Springsteen, and "Passing Through" by Pete Seeger. Why won't First Avenue start their Saturday night dance party a bit later when the band obviously want to keep playing?
The Storm, It's Coming
Talking With The Wolves
Love Don't Leave Me Waiting
When Your Minds Made Up
Bird Of Sorrow
In These Arms
Astral Weeks (Van Morrison)
Sign 'O' The Times (Prince)
Star Star/Hotellounge (dEUS)
Song Of Good Hope
Say It To Me Now (Glen Solo)(Encore)
Don't Do It (Marvin Gaye)(Encore)
The Weight (The Band)(Encore)
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