If there’s one thing that Glen Hansard has proven to be in his songwriting, it’s that he is one hell of a storyteller.
Wednesday night, Hansard only further illustrated that point in an intimate performance at Santa Monica’s Apogee Studio for KCRW. What I expected to be an hour-long performance — including interview — turned out to be a nearly two-hour performance that included an intriguing 30-minute sit down with host Jason Bentley. It is now available to be streamed via KCRW’s website.
Hansard played a number of songs off his upcoming solo album Didn’t He Ramble, which is due out next month. It’s Hansard’s second solo endeavor after enjoying various success in his band The Frames and more famously as part of The Swell Season with Marketa Irkglova, whom he starred in the indie hit film Once with.
Hansard gave the packed crowd of 220 people insight into the recording process as well as reflecting on his career with some stories.
Early in his set, Hansard talked about how he came to KCRW for the first time 20 years ago. He met the late KCRW host Deirdre O Donoghue in Ireland. O Donoghue said to come to LA anytime to hangout, and Hansard said he immediately took her up on the offer, coming to LA and crashing on her couch for a month, busking at the Third Street Promenade the way many musicians often do.
He talked about how he was jetlagged and the day before he sat in a Coffee Bean and struck up a conversation with an elderly man that he took a liking to immediately. The man was presumably homeless and Hansard asked him if he’d join him for lunch, taking great joy in going to the most expensive place he could find.
These types of fun stories came in between riveting performances of songs off his upcoming album like “Winning Streak” and “My Little Ruin.” The latter song was said to be about those people that have all the talent in the world but manage to screw it up, or as Hansard said it is known in Ireland, “piss on your chips.”
Halfway through the set, Bentley joined him on stage for a sitdown interview, talking about the process of recording the album among other things. Hansard said he wanted to take a different approach and gave himself a strict rule not to write any love songs, since that is what he’s come to be known for writing. Hansard also wanted to write all of the songs not from his own perspective but rather different characters. He said it was maddening and difficult at times but he loved the end result he achieved, and having heard many of the songs off the album in this setting, I can agree that he achieved something masterful.
In the second set, Hansard played more from his back catalog. From the film Once he performed “When Your Mind’s Made Up” with his memorable yells at the end part of the song giving people goosebumps, myself included.
Hansard was joined by an amazing strings section for the entire performance and they were magnificent. Hansard kept mentioning how they had very little time to rehearse (maybe a day’s worth), and on some of the songs late in the set that weren’t initially part of the show, they improvised greatly.
The best moment came in a rousing cover of “Hold On, Magnolia” from the late Jason Molina’s band Songs: Ohia. Hansard had recorded songs at Wilco’s studio in tribute to Molina when he passed away, and though Hansard is known for his emotionally-charged performances, he took it up a notch higher on this one.
Hansard left the stage but was coaxed back up to perform a couple more songs, including a duet of the GRAMMY-winning song “Falling Slowly” from Once, with a young lady from the crowd named Gideon. The strings were especially riveting and it has me believing his show at Walt Disney Concert Hall in November will feature more of the same power.
I’ve probably said this a number of times in the past few months, but as we get into August, Glen Hansard’s performance was one of the best I’ve seen all year. It didn’t hurt that it took place in a room of 220 people, as that is the best way to take in someone’s music as poignant as his. KCRW continues to provide opportunities for people to enjoy high-level free shows, and as opposed to when the Cold War Kids played one last week, this one was appreciated by all that were present.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photos: Brian Lowe / KCRW