Last Thursday night Glen Hansard and his band arrived in Philadelphia for the second night of his short east coast tour for his new record This Wild Willing. The Merriam Theatre was the location for what turned out to be a stunning performance from this Irish Troubador. The record came out at the end of April to critical acclaim and the general consensus is that this is Hansard’s best solo album to date. This writer agrees. In typical Glen Hansard fashion the night took some beautiful twists and turns with some special guests and an extra special audience participation moment. Opener Junior Brother joined the tour in support and with his brand new record Pull The Right Rope and he stunned the audience with his incredible finger picking and floor tapping skills. “Hungover At Mass” being the highlight.
Hansard hit the stage and opened with a couple of tracks from This Wild Willing, “Fool’s Game” and “I’ll Be You, Be Me” set the mood for what was to be an emotional rollercoaster. With original “The Frames” member Joe Doyle on bass and the incredible Romy on keys the twisting and turning of sounds echoed throughout the theater filling every nook and cranny. Hansard spoke of wakening the spirits of the room as he jerked too and from the microphone giving every ounce of energy he had in him. We went back over 20 years through his catalog to be treated to a fan favorite “Fitzcarraldo” as well as hearing some touching stories of friends lost at sea before “Closing Door.” Hansard always wears his heart on his sleeve and it seems to be something that is appreciated the most amongst his fans. It’s genuine and it’s sincere.
Before “McCormacks Wall” Glen told us the story of his relationship with another very important Irish singer/songwriter Lisa O Neill. With the wonderful Anna Roberts – Gevalt on violin we got a taste of the traditional side of the set. A wonderful tune that led the way to another great Irishman and special guest. Mark Dignam busked on the streets with Glen back in the late 80s. Glen told us a story of Mark teaching him his first chords on the guitar way back in the way back when. Mark now lives in Pittsburgh and he performed a beautiful song called “The Night Alive.“ A magical moment to see the reunion of such old friends.
The highlight of the night arrived during a tune up on stage when a lady at the back of the theater professed her undying love for Glen. Of course in typical Glen fashion he had to find out who it was, so he left the stage with guitar in hand and found the woman in question. He then proceeded to sing her a song with his arm around her in her seat. From his position at the back of the theater Hansard conducted his band, and with the amplified instruments onstage Hansard sang “Grace Beneath the Pines” with no microphone and filled the room from wall to wall. A powerful voice that effortlessly got the job done and literally brought the house down. A standing ovation (the third of the night) and we weren’t heading home just yet.
“Falling Slowly” paved the way to Hansard becoming a household name in the states. The song is the backbone of the independent movie “Once” which later went on to become a Broadway show. Hansard’s band “The Swell Season” with Marketa Irglova was hugely successful with the song and released two albums together. This performance of the song was dedicated to Irglova and you can hear the sincerity in his voice when he speaks so highly of her. Another beautiful moment. Wrapping up the evening Hansard powered through “Her Mercy” and “Good Life Of Song.”
I have seen many variations of what Glen Hansard does over the past 20 years. The Frames, The Swell Season, and all these solo records will all stand the test of time. This Wild Willing in terms of Hansard’s solo career is for me his finest hour, this is the little nugget of gold that he has been digging deep for over the past few years. He will return to the US in the fall for an extensive mid-west and west coast tour. In the meantime he can be caught in Europe and there is even a chance to see him do some gigs with Eddie Vedder. Not to be missed.
This Wild Willing is out now and available across all platforms.
Article: Anthony Mulcahy