Glen Hansard | photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com
Stories and Songs, Humor and Heartbreak: Glen Hansard captivates at Union Transfer
Dubin balladeer Glen Hansard kicked off 2018 with his new album Between Two Shores and a tour of Europe, England, and America. That trek ended in Philadelphia Sunday night with a near three-hour set at Union Transfer and his entire band joining him for Irish folk song “The Auld Triangle.” Despite the new album he release in January, Hansard did not actually play many songs from it. The 20+ song setlist was made up of a good mix; lots of old, a few new, and some covers.
Union Transfer does not typically bring up feelings of intimacy, not compared to the smaller venues in Philly at least. Glen Hansard may have changed that (for me) on Sunday night. With small, red lamps scattered around the various instruments on stage and very minimal use of the stage lights set, the atmosphere with a feeling of closeness that could make you forget you’re not at a small club or coffeehouse. But the band played with a sound that could draw you in in any space.
With no opening act, Hansard took the stage just after eight o’clock and played straight through the next two and a half hours. He paused only for quick sips of water and to tell personal stories — like finding an abandoned car in his neighborhood and how one day with the tape deck still intact and a tape inside, a lead-in to “Bird of Sorrow.”
He played crowd favorites from The Swell Season such as “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and “Falling Slowly.“ From ballads to folk-rock, each song found Hansard’s voice carrying a great deal of emotion through the night, complimented by a backing band which was featuring the elements of a small orchestra. There were strings, horns; and Hansard only put down his guitar once to play the piano ballad “Shelter” (introduced by a story about Joni Mitchell).
“He’s funny,” stated one fan to their concert companion — and indeed, when Hansard was not singing a ballad on his own or taking the audience on an emotional rollercoster with his band, he was making the crowd laugh. Whether it was in his stories or just informal conversation with his fans, he added some humor to lighten emotional atmosphere brought on by the songs he sang. He went on introducing his song “Wedding Ring” from the album Didn’t He Ramble by claiming he wasn’t sure what the difference between being single and being unmarried was, “but apparently it’s a thing now” he says.
Then, about halfway through the song the trombonist came up to center stage not only to play a brilliant trombone solo but also to sing a verse as well. Hansard’s Woody Guthrie cover of “Vigilante Man” got everybody cheering, and when he played “Way Back When,” he had fans scattered throughout the room singing along to the choruses.
After the full regular set was brought to a close with “Falling Slowly,” the band came back even stronger to encore with the expansive crowd-pleaser “Fitzcarraldo.” Check out a gallery of photos from the show below, as well as a couple fan videos.