Irish mist enveloped the stage at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul on Saturday night. (OK, it was just stage fog but stay with me here.) What a perfect ambiance for a St. Patrick’s Day concert by Irish bard Glen Hansard.
Hansard is an engaging singer-songwriter, all-around charmer and garrulous performer who talks about love, drinking (he’s Irish), what his songs are about, what he did that day.
Let’s start there. Hansard mentioned that he had had a late night on Friday when he finally hit his bed at the St. Paul Hotel. “They have like seven pillows,” he assured us after whining about usually sleeping on his tour bus. Then he woke up to the sounds of fiddles and bugles and cheering. He looked out his window at the St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown St. Paul. “Ambulances were trying to get through the crowd,” he observed. He smiled. “You do it [St. Patrick’s Day] with more passion than we [Irish people] do.”
One of popular music’s great gabbers in concert, Hansard, 47, responded to shouts from fans (“you can’t hear me. My apologies. I’ll talk louder or you can talk quieter”) but more importantly shared little philosophies and back stories of his songs.
In conversation, he philosophized a lot about love. “This song is about love,” he said introducing “Bird of Sorrow.” “The song is about love advice, which is [BS]. There is no love advice.”
But Hansard was also about the music in his generous 2-hour 20-minute performance. There were tunes from his fine new album “Between Two Shores” as well as from his stints with the Swell Season (the duo featured in the movie “Once” for which Hansard won an Oscar for best song) and the Frames (a punkish, Dylan-influenced rock band).
Among the brightest highlights on the dimly lit, foggy stage were a rockin’ cover of “Gloria” with horns that would have made Van Morrison proud; Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” with updated lyrics about his landlord Fred Trump and then some lines about Donald Trump; the heavy rockin,’ Neil Youngish “Didn’t He Ramble”; the sweet, pretty “Wedding Ring” delivered with a hushed, romantic voice; “Her Mercy,” one of those horn-punctuated Irish soulful rockers complete with a little taste of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” in mid-song; the bare-bones Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” with a tasty string section; a spontaneously improvised treatment of the Pixies’ “Gigantic”; the Frames’ brooding, intense “Fitzcarraldo”; the Ireland-meets-New Orleans-flavored “Lowly Deserter”; and the gorgeous “Gold” from the movie “Once.”
Geez, that’s almost half the set.
And we must mention the finale, “Auld Triangle,” written by political prisoner Brendan Behan. Every member of Hansard’s top-shelf 11-member band – plus a couple of crew members -- got to sing a verse. The horn section offered: “On a St. Paul evening/As we are leaving/The girls are screaming…”