With a discography spanning The Frames, the “Once” movie turned Broadway musical, The Swell Season and now a solo career, Glen Hansard sure had a lot to consider in shaping his latest Chicago Theatre sell out. And even with two-and-a-half-hours on stage, he still couldn’t quite address it all, yet was thoroughly engaging throughout a spontaneous set list peppered with storytelling, historical and philosophical observations.
And whether singing about benevolence, broken hearts, healing or having a grand old time, Hansard emerged equally convincing and perhaps just as passionate as his earliest days busking in the streets of Dublin.
For a guy who’s won an Academy Award and penned the tunes for an eight time Tony Award winning show, the always articulate Hansard appeared as the same old approachable guy in the pub who’s not the least bit pretentious. He also proved to be a fairly fearless performer, singing without a microphone on the opener “Grace Beneath The Pines” as the crowd sat in awe of the simple but spine-chilling achievement.
Shortly thereafter, Hansard grabbed an acoustic guitar and gradually wound up a band split between traditional rock musicians, strings and a brass section. “When Your Mind’s Made Up” was one of the many easygoing starts that morphed into a surging crescendo, followed a little later by a cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” which found the headliner strumming so insanely fast he could’ve kept up with a jackhammer.
Outside of a few hat tips to his heroes and personal past, Hansard emphasized his second individual offering “Didn’t He Ramble,” including the humorous but heartfelt tribute to his “gifted drinker” dad “Paying My Way” and his own late night reverly rounds in honor of late Irish tenor John McCormack on “McCormack’s Wall.” The haunting “Lowly Deserter” gave the horns in particular their greatest chance to shine, while the even newer stomper “Way Back In The Way Back When” was amongst his most profound yet as it spoke of humanity’s ongoing journey for freedom.
After an epic first round finale of “This Gift,” opener Aoife O’Donovan joined Hansard and the band to presumably cover “Say It To Me Now,” though they never got to it as a fan from the balcony suddenly requested the Irish standard “The Auld Triangle” (featuring every single musician, crew member and even that very guy taking a verse). The pair eventually joined together for a gorgeous, almost hushed reading of the string-soaked “Falling Slowly,” which flowed seamlessly into the traditional “The Parting Glass.”
With everyone on their feet, an additional encore of the recent “Her Mercy” once again tapped into the headliner’s lyrical eloquence and further explored the band’s glorious wall of gospel-flavored sound. And whether singing about benevolence, broken hearts, healing or having a grand old time, Hansard emerged equally convincing and perhaps just as passionate as his earliest days busking in the streets of Dublin.