Reviews > Shows
Glen Hansard at The Vic
The Vic Theatre
“Glen Hansard” flashed brightly on the marquee outside Chicago’s The Vic Theatre, but the ginger-haired Irishman offered up the mic at center stage to his beguiling opening act, a YouTube star from the audience and his old pals in The Frames so often during the two-plus hour set that it was easy to forget who’s the boss.
On the road to celebrate the release of his solo debut, Rhythm and Repose, (and make no mistake, this outing doesn’t merely showcase the latest product, it essentially caps off six years of rubbing elbows with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Dr. John, canvassing the country with Eddie Vedder to out-ukulele each other and sending Once off to its next phase as a Tony Award-winning musical) Hansard stuck to a Swell Season template to direct the course of the night. Despite missing the feminine mystique of his Oscar-winning partner Marketa Irglova and foregoing an opportunity to send long-suffering Frames fans into ecstatic shock with a deep cut (even with all the band members in tow), the new material fit snugly between massive sing-alongs “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and “Low Rising.”
Hansard turned the stop into a homecoming, pausing to reminisce about every local floor his guitar case has touched in 15 years, from a now-defunct Irish watering hole-in-the-wall to the gleaming Chicago Theatre. He cajoled the sold-out crowd to chill out, saying he wasn’t going anywhere. And sure enough, he took his time, especially during a charming busking break when he pushed his husky voice to the limit with a crackling “Leave” and an epic cover of “Astral Weeks” filled with enough fury to send Van Morrison into the tailspin of a nervous breakdown.
With the band, Hansard showcased the album’s two strongest tracks back-to-back. Fraught with airy, spooky vocals, Rob Bochnik’s growling guitar and a frenzied beat matching the disarray of a blizzard, “Talking With The Wolves” could accompany Jon Snow’s lonely, blustery shifts on the Night’s Watch in “Game Of Thrones.” “Bird Of Sorrow” started delicately as if Hansard’s hung over with grief and anything above a whisper will make his brains go splat. It swelled in increments lead by Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s keening violin until Hansard erupted in a howl that flushed his face scarlet, three shades deeper than the curly mop atop his head.
Levon Helm’s crackerjack brass buddies Steven Bernstein, Erik Lawrence and Curtis Fowlkes gave the breezy “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” some heft and a 70’s groove, but proved invaluable in a two-song tribute to the late folk rock pioneer. They punched up a funky, booty-shaking “Don’t Do It,” while Hansard traded verses with Lisa Hannigan on a mournfully reserved “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
Two eager audience members got to show off their talents to the accepting crowd. It wasn’t the first time Ethan got to share Hansard’s spotlight. He met Hansard as a precocious youngster transfixed by Once and the star indulged his adorable rendering of “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” by turning it into a reoccurring bit in Chicago, eliciting a collective “awwwww” every time. Now a tween, Hansard let him put his piano lessons to good use. As Ethan yelped out Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” bassist Joe Doyle and drummer Graham Hopkins quietly slipped in a backing beat while Hansard solemnly knelt to the side beaming with pride.
He resurrected the same look when Fredo pummeled his already worn-through Takamine on “Gold.” Hansard clearly relished plucking the teen out of his bedroom and away from his webcam and even let him take the reins on “Say It To Me Now.” As Hansard stood by waiting to dole out a congratulatory bear hug, Fredo buried his face in his hands as if the weight of the moment just set in. Judging by the iPhones in the air, both boys have a shot at going viral. Just call Hansard, Ed McMahon 2.0.
The plaintive tearjerker “Song Of Good Hope” acted as a parting blessing before passing around the metaphorical pint and toasting the Windy City with “The Auld Triangle.”
Lisa Hannigan sublimely opened the evening with a concise set borrowing heavily from her sophomore release, Passenger. “A Sail” pulsed with an uneven heartbeat while “Lille” found the Irish beauty hitting previously uncharted octaves. Accompanying guitarist John Smith subbed in for Ray LaMontagne on a starry-eyed “O Sleep,” but the breathy bearded one took the duet partner label too seriously on the album’s title track and drowned out Hannigan’s crystalline lead. When will the demure lass learn she doesn’t need a male counterpoint? Damien Rice who?
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