An Irish indie rock band that started out in the 90s, The Frames are shockingly underrated. They are kind of a rockier version of Damien Rice, mixing Gaelic, country, folk and rock influences. But despite being much more varied and prolific than Rice, The Frames have enjoyed nowhere near the same fame.
Glen Hansard is The Frames’ front man. And what a front man. He exudes personality and charisma, yet despite seeming at home in the spotlight he also seems like a thoroughly decent bloke you’d just love to sink a few Guinness’s with.
He actually was the guitar player in the 1991 Alan Parker film The Commitments and returned to the screen for the 2006 indie film Once which was a surprise critical and commercial success. Hansard and co star Markéta Irglová wrote and performed the songs for the film’s soundtrack and won the 2007 Oscar for Best Original song for Falling Slowly.
Hansard has recently released his first solo album, Rhythm and Repose and has been touring to support it. Finding the album a bit too mellow and uninvolving, I stupidly had low expectations from Hansard’s solo gig at the Barbican last Wednesday.
First of all despite the concert being billed as just Glen Hansard, the entire Frames were also on stage, along with a keyboardist, backing singer and horn and string sections – 13 musicians in all. This gave the songs from Rhythm and Repose a much larger sound and they greatly benefited from the live horn and string arrangements that are far more muted on the album.
Secondly, it dawned on me, after about 5 or 6 songs in, that Set List, The Frames live album, is without doubt the best live album made – ever! So it was no wonder that this was turning out to be a great gig. But it just got better and better.
The first five songs were from Rhythm and Repose and although they sounded really good, they are still mellow and it was clear Hansard wanted to rock.
And sure enough on When Your Mind’s Made up, from the Once soundtrack, he and the band let go – big time! Like many of The Frames and Hansard’s songs this track builds from a quiet folky start to a point where it suddenly just explodes into border line heavy rock, such is the intensity of the noise created by guitars, drums, bass and tonight string and horns too.
Hansard can sing too. He has an excellent range veering from falsetto, to soulful to screaming. And at times tonight he almost looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel such was his screaming of heartfelt lyrics while he strummed his guitar with incredible ferocity.
He seemed to often be egged on by the demonic looking excellent Frames drummer Graham Hopkins. With his kit at the front of the stage next to Glen, Hopkins was also a joy to watch, playing almost Keith Moon style, hunched over his kit and when a song went incendiary (as many did) his sticks and body went into a rage of wild action.
The solo section also saw him at his storytelling best, discussing how he received his first ukulele from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Veder, as he went on to play one, discussing mid song how an American thought Pennies from Heaven was actually called Panties from Heaven and then changing one of the choruses to reflect this, adding “I’ve never seen the song the same way since.”
He also told a hysterical story about his recent travels to India and meeting a man who knew only four words of English yet could communicate absolutely everything with these – sometimes depending body, sometime depending mind. Brilliant!
This was billed as a Glen Hansard gig, so despite all The Frames being present, all the material was from Hansard’s solo record or from his collaborations with Once co-star Irglová.
The main set however closed with the one Frames song of the night, Santa Maria. Hansard dedicated it to “the people in Brazil” and it couldn’t have been more appropriate.
“The feeling comes in waves and burns us and I don’t wanna die” goes the second verse in this brilliant song with a fantastic undulating bass line which also starts quietly yet gets tenser and tenser before exploding in a fury of noise that is perhaps best described as controlled chaos. Incredible.
With the audience on their feet giving this fantastic gig the standing ovation it rightly deserved, Glen returned for the encore alone. He came to the front of the stage, asked the audience to not sit down again, and sang unamplified Say it to Me Now, from Once.
He was then joined by Frames’ violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire for the lilting sun kissed beautiful country song Gold (also from Once), also performed unamplified. I don’t know what people at the back of the hall made of this but I was blessed to be just four rows from the front in the centre. With the two musicians stood so close at the front of the stage this felt like being in an Irish pub lock-in. It was simply wonderful.
The full band returned for the Oscar winning beautiful Falling Slowly, with Glen, and then backing singer Charlotte both amusingly forgetting some of the words.
But as if this gig hadn’t thrown up enough surprises, entertainment or moments of musical brilliance, the grand finale saw the entire 13 piece band unamplified, front of stage sing Leonard Cohen’s hymn like Passing Through, trad jazz style. Then Glen got the whole audience signing along before leading his entire group, while still performing the song, off the stage on a single file procession through the aisles of the Barbican up and down and around and right through the body of the audience. Amazing. Quite simply an umissable gig.