Concert review: Glen Hansard sustains all notes at the Pageant, Tuesday, September 25
Maybe you fell in love with the Glen Hansard busking on a street corner in Dublin, wearing a bedraggled broken coat, strumming on a well-worn, hole-y, broken guitar, wailing about his miserable broken heart.
Or maybe you fell in love with the broken-guitar slinging, broken-heart crooning, broken-coat donning characters Hansard has played on the big screen (“Once,” 2007; “The Commitments,” 1991). Or maybe you are one of the few who joined the Glen Hansard love affair from the now-broken Frames or Swell Season days. Regardless, those broken bits are all Glen Hansard, one and the same.
His 2012 release “Rhythm and Repose” at first listen, or even after several solid tries, sounds, well, a bit broken. Without his co-star, Markéta Irglová, or even the backup harmonizers the “Commitmentettes,” Glen Hansard sounds alone. “Alone” in all connotations — both lonely and lacking. Indeed, the lyrics of his entire repertoire seem to center on loneliness, sadness, heartbreak — “this gift is waiting to be found.” Ouch.
There is something painfully exquisite about two former lovers lamenting their mutual lost love for one another in the most beautiful of harmonies (of course we’re all thinking of the achingly, lovely harmonizing of Hansard and Irglova — “you call, then I’ll come running.” But when one of those lovers keeps crooning, maintaining that lament, while his partner has not just moved on, but also ceased all such lamenting over that same lost love, that is more painful than exquisite: “When your mind’s made up, there’s no point trying to change it.”
And “Rhythm and Repose” has a touch of that painfulness: no one harmonizing and no one filling the void of that broken heart that is the subject of nearly every song on the album. That guy can hold a high note, for sure, but he can also keep up a broken heart far longer than anyone I’ve met.
On Tuesday night at the Pageant, however, Glen Hansard filled that void of someone or something missing. True, he lamented and mewled over his broken heart. Yes, he created a palpable sadness that made me mourn lost lovers that ordinarily wouldn’t warrant even a second thought. But the single, lonely, aching crooner was not alone last night.
Between the crowd joining in (at times from the sheer compulsion to throw our harmonizing hats into the mutual-lament ring, and at other times from Hansard instructing us to chime in — “you melodize there, there, there” or “just remember – long enough / strong enough” — and his 10-piece backup orchestra (complete with former Levon Helm bandmates), Hansard was a solid, complete, dare I say fulfilled, entity. His melodies crescendoed in the most — yes painfully — exquisite of ways, his street-smart humor a la Grafton Street infused some needed levity, and his two hours and 20 minutes of music-making left absolutely no holes.
With this mix of elements, there was no void, there was no lack. On this night in St. Louis there was nothing broken.
Glen Hansard took the stage at 9:15 p.m. and played a 20-plus song set (it was impossible to keep track, with many songs devolving into several-part medleys), including singing original music from old and new albums plus the two most famous duets from “Once.” He covered not just Levon Helm and his self-proclaimed idol Bob Dylan, but also a bit of Otis Redding, a touch of Chuck Berry and even a moment of Willy Wonka. He bantered, he danced, he pounded the no-longer hole-y guitar, he laughed, he charmed, he fucking rocked it.
Still I wonder whether Glen Hansard — solo man/solo artist — can sustain. But I also believe that given the right accompaniment — whether that is a lover, an orchestra, a group of back-up singers, a hit Broadway spinoff, or even the Band — the Glen Hansard cohort will continue to reverberate — musically and emotionally.
And if it all works out, you might just see me or hear from me . . . We can do anything. . . Where your heart is strong.