Glen Hansard Christmas concerts have an epic reputation and his latest three-hours plus seasonal shindig more than lived up to expectations. The red-haired, grey-bearded singer-songwriter crooned, joked, danced (yes) and invited up a rotating cast of poets, trad singers and Irish music icons.
It was intense and exhausting, wild-eyed and joyful — a festive rollercoaster with Hansard seated up front cheering the loudest (and with proceeds going to homeless charities all for a good cause too).
The sometimes Frames leader has earned a rather unfair reputation as a troubadour among troubadours — a furrowed brow over a wooly jumper. But his career has contained multitudes as he reminded us here. The spirit of Radiohead inhabited ‘Bird of Sorrow’, Hansard’s voice ragged and urgent, vying against dense, menacing guitars.
A more sensitive side peeked through on ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’ — an exquisite dirge from the movie Once here festooned with ennui.
Hansard has lived a great deal since that film was released 11 years ago and you could hear it here as he revisited what was once a romantic serenade but was now a rumination on love lost.
Yet there was light amid the shadows. ‘Roll On Slow’ segued into Them’s ‘Gloria’ and he later dipped into The Commitments soundtrack. John Sheahan of The Dubliners popped up, as did one of Hansard’s backing musicians, wearing a washboard for ‘Way Back In The Way Back When’.
Sheahan was just the first of several cameos. Trad singer John Flynn was invited to perform an old Luke Kelly number (with two tin whistles tapped together), followed by beat poet Stephen James Smith. Had Father Christmas clopped on bashing a bodhrán on the back of a reindeer, nobody would have been too shocked.
The seasonal cracker at the end was a group singalong of ‘Fairytale of New York’, with Lisa O’Neill performing the Kristy MacColl part and Shane MacGowan nodding his approval from the balcony. It was an Irish Christmas personified and tied up with a very earnest bow.