Glen Hansard was determined.
“I have a friend who always ruins the moment,” Glen told an audience at DAR Constitution Hall on Saturday night. “He’s the kind of person that finds the fault in everything even when everything is going well. He’ll find that one thing that will ruin it for everybody.”
So to brighten his friend’s spirits, Glen said, he brought him along on tour. Glen also wrote a song dedicated his American friend, Thomas Bartlett, called “My Little Ruin,” which captures the spirit of being able to find that fault in everything.
Well, I could find no fault in the song — one of several incredibly powerful numbers from Glen’s new album, Didn’t He Ramble, which stole the show at Constitution Hall. Even Thomas contributed to a perfect moment with his skillful playing of the strings of his piano during the mournful song composed by his Irish friend.
The song keeps a beautifully tragic pace as Glen’s worn but warm voice fills the air backed by the melodious strings of his chamber pop ensemble. Glen’s chamber pop band, of course, plants one foot firmly in Irish folk tradition, but Glen makes the remarkable formidable as he approaches the chorus and hammers down on his guitar with a punk rock fury that belies the heretofore peaceful folk ambience.
He cannot watch people sideline his friend because they don’t understand him, Glen sings.
“‘Cause you’re better than they are/And I can’t say it enough,” he shouts as he goes from mild to wild.
Watch Glen perform “My Little Ruin” for WFUV Public Radio in New York City with his band, including Thomas on piano, on Sept. 14, 2015:
Although Glen was touring in support of his second solo album, he played songs from throughout his career, including from his band The Frames and his lover’s duo The Swell Season. And with a very full house, the concert Saturday was full of “Glen moments” such as when he switched up to that punk intensity on an otherwise melancholy song. And in doing so, Glen made each specific selection a unique mini-concert in and of itself because you could never be 100 percent sure how we was going to play it out.
The stunning encore of the concert showcased Glen’s inclinations toward unpredictability as he pops up in the stage right balcony among some delighted audience members in the nosebleed seats to kick off his encore with a solo acoustic rendition of “Say It to Me Now” by The Frames. Then he dashes down to the mainstage for his second encore number, a duet of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” by the Fairport Convention with his opening act, folk rock statesman Richard Thompson. Then, Glen assembles his band and eventually some of his crew along the lip of the stage to engage them all in an a Capella version of Brendan Behan’s “The Auld Triangle,” which begins in a traditionally forlorn manner but becomes a bit more humorous as it goes along, particularly as his roadies add a verse dedicated to their desire that Glen pay them more.
Glen closes the entire thing out with a moving croon of the new love song “Her Mercy,” a treatise on receiving kindness at those times you need it.
And I’ll again take this moment to reinforce my point: Glen is at a creative high, and despite the wealth of material at his fingertips, his new songs really stole the show — no less so than the poignant “McCormack’s Wall,” written about a drunken night spent in the ruins of Irish tenor John McCormack’s house with fellow musician Lisa O’Neill. That night, Glen let romantic sparks fly between them despite the fact that he was in another relationship, and then he felt remorse about it the next day. The sadly sweet song occupies itself with those feelings of longing and regret, which play beautifully again over the lush and wondrous strings of Jeanie Lim on viola and Simone Vitucci on cello.
Watch Glen perform “McCormack’s Wall” live at Whelan’s (surely, *the* perfect place to see him!) in a video from Dublin published Sept. 24, 2015;
Glen Hansard closes his US tour tonight in New York City with a show at the Beacon Theatre before he moves on to Ireland and the rest of Europe.
If you know Glen only from The Frames or The Swell Season, take my word for it that he is well worth seeing again, enriched by strong solo material. And dammit, you’ll feel a flame within your soul when you listen to the man sing mournfully or defiantly, alternatively escorting or flinging words down upon you and into the space beyond.
And you’ll be determined — to experience those feelings he stirred within you again.