reCAP :: Glen Hansard :: 2018.07.27

July 31  / Tuesday
Words By: Jason Donnelly Photos By: Geoff Tischman

I was going to start this all out by talking about my first solo trip to The Capitol Theatre and explain the intricacies of getting there from the city. How it’s less than an hour on Metro North from Grand Central Station. How once I got there the people were nicer than any other venue I’ve been to. How the architecture itself was gorgeous. And how, if I didn’t already have another show, I’d be back the next day for Buddy Guy & Jonny Lang, but honestly, the show was too amazing to dig into the nitty gritty of the trip there and the venue itself.

First off, the crowd was more diverse than almost any show I’ve been to. Purple hair to no hair, hipsters to polos, and high heels to Doc Martins. But they all had one thing in common, they all loved Glen Hansard.

The opener, Niall Connolly, who snuck into a Glen Hansard show in Ireland years ago and jokingly told the crowd that he owed him three pounds. Even with The Capitol only about a third full when he kicked off, they ate out of the palm of his hand. His songs were crushingly good and on top of his singer/songwriter prowess, he brought a humor that no one could escape. At one point he said to the audience, “What’s that? Do I have any records for sale? Thank you for asking!” and, “Why yes, I do have a few shows in the area…” He was the perfect opener for Glen and after 8 songs, he welcomed the master to the stage.

When Glen walked out in blue jeans, a blue shirt, and red bandana around his neck, the venue was about ¾ full. He sat down at the piano and you could have heard a pin drop. “Bird of Sorrow” was the first song he played and the best part of it, other than his out-of-this world vocals, was the fact that he kept messing up on the piano, then started singing ABOUT messing up. The crowd loved it.

Hansard has a way to inject every ounce of his feelings into your heart, rip it apart, and then hand you the glue to put yourself back together. For song two, he moved over to a guitar that was road worn and lovingly played for what I can only assume years. For that second song, he told the crowd to sing “tell me why” with him, and away it went. This was to be only the first song of the night the crowd joined him for.

The night continued and he showed just how strong his vocal range was, hitting high notes with ease, and an intense scream that was no doubt goosebump inducing for more folks than just me. On one song, “Paying My Way” he told a story about it being for his dad and the lights flashed on and off. He jokingly said, “hi dad.” At this point in the show, I felt like I was watching a VH1 Unplugged set.

Up until around song 10, it was a one-man-show, and then Rosie the violinist joined him. Her addition to the night was a welcome one. Her playing was quietly and hauntingly taking it all up a step, but not taking the spotlight away from Glen who could be seen with a massive smile throughout almost every song. He’s genuinely so happy to be there and everyone saw it.

Song 13 he brings out an electric guitar and does one of the most incredible Pixies covers I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot) of their song “Cactus.” As an aside, he said at one point how much he respected the singer and the band.

There were two things he said throughout the night that really hit me, “A song needs a witness,” which, you can’t help but fall in love with, and that him and his “band” never rehearse. At this point in his career, he’s just this good all the time, and obviously his friends are also on the same level.

Possibly the perfect cover of the night included singing Pearl Jam’s, “Present Tense” that would have no doubt made Eddie Vedder tear up.

He does something when he sings the song “Grace” that I’ve only seen once or twice before at smaller venues. He unplugs everything. NO MIC. NO SPEAKERS. He walks out to the front of the stage and everyone who was even considering whispering silenced. He showed us what the pure definition of owning an audience looks like.

After “Her Mercy” about 18 or 19 songs in he jokes, “that marked the halfway point.” And as silly as it sounded… he wasn’t far off.

Two of his friends came in to join him on the piano and guitar, Ken Griffin (of August Wells) and John Rauchenburger. They sang two songs, the first a song called “I’m Not Drinkin’” that was hilarious, and another that I think was called “Here in the Wild.” In the second half of the second song a louder audience member who would not be quiet was walked out and the crowd couldn’t be happier that she left cheering loudly. With loving admiration, Glen never took his eyes off his friends playing in front of him.

The closer to 11pm that the set went, the more the crowd seemingly slipped away going from 90% full to 70 to around 60 when the night ended. After doing “Say It To Me Now” and blowing everyone away, he got on the piano and brought out the violinist and an Accordian player named Brendan and played a song not on the set list for someone in the audience called “McCormack’s Wall.”

At the end of the night the trio went on to form more of an Irish jig jam band with some incredible highlights including the crowd clapping with every song, even more dancing than earlier in the night, a gorgeous “love song to Ireland” sang by Brendan in Gaelic, and the violinist doing an Irish dance. It was beautiful watching Glen fall in love with the music that his friends were playing with him. It was more like he was an audience member who just happened to have better seats than the rest of us.

The final songs (after something like 30) were, “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” “High Hope,” Niall coming back and taking the lead on “A Song for James Connolly,” and just before midnight he closed with another piece of NO MIC gold with “Good Hope.”

Without a doubt, it was one of the most passionate performances I’ve ever been witness to. I could have done without the extended Irish jig section of the night, but with over 3 hours of music, you can’t fault the guy for wanting to keep playing with his friends. One last highlight was how he incorporated so many other songs into his own including Van Morrison’s, “Gloria,” a Willy Wonka song, and even Sesame Street’s “Manamana.” It was all magic.

I for one will raise a glass of Guinness to this living legend. Thanks, Glen.

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