By Kevin Rolfe
When it was first announced that Glen Hansard was going to be playing the Eccles Theater my initial thought was, “I’m definitely going to that show!”. But as the summer concerts were announced I had a real dilemma on my hands. Two other shows that I wanted to see were announced for the same date. This was a problem. (I know, “Poor Kevin, he has to choose between three concerts to go to!”) I’m not saying it’s a bad problem to have but one I didn’t anticipate. One was a band that I’ve always wanted to see, and another that was playing their farewell tour. What to do? As I weighed my options the thing that came to mind was “Which of these shows will you regret missing the most?” Glen Hansard was the answer every time. I was not disappointed with my decision. Glen played a two hour, ten minute set befitting of the beautiful downtown theater hosting his concert.
As I was up by the stage early in the show taking photographs for this review it dawned on me as Hansard and his band performed, “The Moon” featured in the movie, Once, that I was in the presence of an Academy Award winner. I recall being so happy for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová (The Swell Season) the night they won that award for “Best Original Song”. I loved that movie and still love the soundtrack so it was fun to reminisce on that memory as I was moving about the theater taking photos and listening to that song.
Following the third song of the evening, Glen invited Ari Grace a young activist who took part in the Global School Strike here in Utah with Friday’s for Future, a youth lead organization that “strikes” from school on Friday and goes to their local government building (In this case, the capitol building) to show political leaders that changes need to be made in regards to climate change. Most of them are too young to vote so they march and speak so that those who can vote will help them with this cause. They expected about 300 people and around 2,000 showed up. I thought Ari was very well-spoken, and it seemed that the audience who was definitely at an eligible age to vote, were moved.
As the concert continued, Hansard featured a variety of songs from his solo career prominently featuring his latest release, This Wild Willing. I thought the concert was evenly paced between songs and stories. He expressed his love for Bob Dylan many times, including writing the song “The Closing Door” after seeing Dylan in London. He felt like Bob was withdrawing from the world. He then realized it wasn’t about Dylan at all. He mentioned it has recently become more about activist Greta Thunberg. He dedicated the song “For Bob, for Greta, and for the pollinators of the land.” He shared an experience of rowing along the coast of Europe with a man who has since passed. They would stop in various cities for the night and meet interesting people. They didn’t use technology and the rule was that they weren’t allowed to complain. He dedicated the song “Leave a Light” to his friend who eventually died at sea on that rowboat.
Glen was joined on stage by one of the best backing bands I have ever heard. Each one of them extremely talented at their craft. Some played with him in his band The Frames, some have been featured on his albums and some have played with legends like Leonard Cohen. This review won’t ever feel complete because I do not have their names and they deserve to be recognized. Interestingly enough there was a point in the show where an audience member yelled out for Hansard to introduce the band. I thought it was an odd request because I felt like he would have done that regardless. When I was up against the stage there was a moment I found myself just watching the musicians play. I had to remind myself the reason I was up by the stage was to take pictures! They were so good. And they all seemed to really enjoy playing with one another.
I liked that Glen didn’t shy away from the songs that made him famous worldwide. While the entire show wasn’t a revisitation of the Once soundtrack, he sprinkled those songs in ever so subtly so that those who were there to hear those songs got their fix. I must admit that I was hoping to hear some of those songs and was delighted when he played them. As I mentioned he played “The Moon” pretty much at the top of the show. He also played “When Your Mind’s Made Up” in the first half of the concert. He could have done the entire soundtrack and I’m sure people would have been pleased. But I don’t think that was the expectation of anyone there. But it was undeniable how special it was when Hansard performed the Oscar winning song “Falling Slowly”. Every member of his band left the stage and he was there alone with his acoustic guitar. He dedicated the song to his “mate and old flame” Marketa. He then sang the song alone which I really liked. He could have sung the song with his full band, and his keyboardist could have easily filled in on Marketa’s harmonies, but it seemed purposeful that he sang it alone. I loved the version and I must admit I got a little misty eyed. The song, the moment, the experience just totally moved me. That’s how you know you’re in the presence of a true artist. I mean how many times has he sung that song? And yet he sang it with as much passion and emotion as the other songs he had played that night. It was beautiful.
I think my favorite moment of the evening was right before Glen Hansard left the stage before the encore. Glen tuned his guitar and I thought he was going to start playing it. Instead, he set his guitar down and walked past his microphone and past the monitors to the foot of the stage. He then began singing “Grace Beneath the Pines”. The audience was silent as his voice soared through the Delta Performance Hall of the Eccles Theater. I can’t think of a better endorsement of the acoustics of this majestic venue than having Glen Hansard singing to a large audience without using a microphone. He was crystal clear. Even when his band began playing quietly behind him, his voice was easy to hear. It was an amazing moment that featured this theater that has been a great addition to downtown Salt Lake City.
Glen returned to the stage after a long ovation to perform four more songs. The appreciative audience sat back in their chairs and relished in the last remaining moments of this amazing evening. I have to hand it to this audience. There were very few phones out, very few people left early, and the place was silent all night. Much of that can be attributed to Hansard and his band. It’s hard to check the score of a Utes game when you’re totally transfixed by what’s happening on stage. The show ended with “Fool’s Game”. The song begins with Hansard using a vocoder to add a digitized effect on his voice. The song then grew into this enormous orchestration of audio sensation as if we were being sent home with every last bit of passion that the band had left.
I asked people who attended those other shows I was debating going to. They sounded great. I’m sure I would have loved them. But if I had not gone to see Glen Hansard, and heard about what I had missed I know I would have regretted it. I had been wanting to see him for years and he met and exceeded every expectation I had.