When the cheers went up and fans sang along to nearly every word of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” during Saturday night’s nearly sold-out First Avenue show, there was no doubting how Glen Hansard originally came to a majority of the crowd’s attention: “Once,” the movie/soundtrack that earned him an Academy Award. It remains the Irish folk-rocker’s calling card to America, even when he’s not performing with his once-partner Markéta Irglová as the Swell Season. No surprise, really.
What was surprising: Hansard didn’t play more from the movie. Even more of a shocker: Fans didn’t seem to care in the least. He even skipped the elegant “Once” centerpiece “Falling Slowly.” The only grumbling heard after the concert, though, was that he strictly adhered to First Avenue’s 10 p.m. cut-off to make room for the Too Much Love dance party – as if the 2¼-hour set he had already played short-sold anyone.
In lieu of the “Once” material, Hansard made a strong case for his new solo album as well as his old, underrated band the Frames. He had an Irish-family-sized 11-piece band with him featuring strings, horns and members of the Frames. Early in the show, they churned out lush, regal but lively and loose renditions of “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” and “Bird of Sorrow” from the new album (“Rhythm & Repose”). They also showed off an already-festering funky side by covering Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times.” Hansard explained that they worked it up that afternoon but were afraid it would be too obvious. Someone at the club must’ve told them otherwise. “I can’t believe everyone doesn’t play it here,” he said.
Just before the encore, Hansard brought the show to a spiritual/emotional climax with the closing song from the record, “Song of Good Hope,” which he explained was inspired by a friend’s cancer battle. “Not to bring things down,” he added -- as if the rest of his songs were all “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” For Frames fans, it would’ve been much harder than that to bring things down after powerful versions of “Fitzcarraldo,” “Revelate” and “Star Star” slipped in before the encore. Hansard came back out solo and showed off his busking skills with a truly unplugged, full-throated version of “Say It to Me Now,” which rivaled his solo version of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” earlier in the show for vein-popping intensity.
Things wound down with jacked-up, full-tilt-boogie versions of the Band’s staples “Don’t Do It” and “The Weight,” masterfully played in honor of the late Levon Helm. Turns out, Hansard had picked up his horn players from Helm’s band. Ah, the luck of the Irish.