I had to rely on this blog to tell me how many times I’ve seen Glen Hansard perform. It seems Sunday’s show at the Sydney Opera House was my fourth time seeing the Irish troubadour, yet the gloss never seems to wear off.
Funnily enough, when my husband and I tell people we’re seeing Glen Hansard we’re always met with blank faces. We mention the movie and stage musical Once, the song “Falling Slowly” it spawned, yet still there’s no recognition. I’m not sure why he hasn’t broken through to the mainstream yet, but I’m glad there are enough of us dedicated fans to see Glen sell out iconic venues like the Opera House twice over.
One of the things that keeps me coming back to see Glen is that every show is different. This time he was out promoting his newish album Didn’t He Ramble, so there were new songs to enjoy. He was also out here with one of the biggest bands I can remember, made up of members of The Frames, the act that saw him come to prominence, as well a string section and pianist.
Mercifully for a show starting at 9 on a school night there was no support act. Glen and his players walked out without fanfare, setting the scene for a show that was more about true talent than bells and whistles. And there we were, transfixed, for the best part of three hours. This generous set never felt laboured because Glen has so much quality music to draw from. The long set gave us time to hear the stories behind songs and enjoy extended jams which showcased the quality of all musicians on the stage. Everyone was so talented, but Glen is the one who demands attention. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer that’s so committed to his songs, so connected to his music. It’s a raw, beautiful to see him strumming furiously at an instrument, crying out his lyrics.
Most of the songs drew from Didn’t He Ramble, but he still delved back into the old Frames and Swell Season catalogue for those of us who’ve supported his music all these years. “Star Star” morphed into “Pure Imagination,” a fitting tribute to the late Gene Wilder. A cover of “Astral Weeks,” a nod to his fellow countryman Van Morrison was another highlight for this woman who was raised on Van’s music.
There were also special guests. Glen brought up Peter, a busker he’d met on the streets of Sydney who played a stunning song he’d penned for his mother. Watching this young guy so overwhelmed to be on the Opera House stage, to be playing Glen’s guitar, to be so supported by a musical hero, was so moving. Peader O’Riada, a legendary Irish classical pianist also joined Glen for “Leave a Light” before treating us to a few of his own compositions. I don’t listen to a lot of classical music but I couldn’t help but be impressed by his talent.
As we were shuffling out of the theatre I heard the gentleman behind me turn to his friends and say “I have the feeling we just witnessed something really special.” I can’t help but agree.
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