The stage was artfully cluttered as I walked into the luxuriously seated room, the Sala Sinopoli at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. The music stands, keyboards and mics were all directed towards the front, centre-stage. Before long the lights dimmed and the support act, Lisa Hannigan, entered to occupy a lonely spotlight in front of the excited audience.
Playing mostly tracks from Passenger, the majority of Lisa’s set was solo, yet she held the full attention of the audience. Although she was clearly nervous, her hands shaking slightly and after modestly introducing herself as “Lisa Hannigan, from Ireland”, saying that she wasn’t sure if we were cheering her or Ireland, she played an incredible set. The emotion showed so clearly through her face and her movements and she rocked every song, even pulling off ‘Knots’ on a single Ukulele. A few members of Glen Hansard’s band joined her for the last few numbers, which included a dark, brooding new song, which she dedicated to “Simona”, and finishing on a powerful performance of ‘A Sail’.
Although there were a couple of minor balance issues, the bass being a little loud and the backup vocal mics a little quiet, this barely impacted on the performance, and it was obvious that the setup was designed for Glen Hansard’s set, which featured a larger, louder band, and was technically perfect. As Glen himself entered the stage, the size of his band actually worried me; beyond the central group of which played with Lisa, many of whom were former members of the Frames, there was both a small horn and string section – I was afraid that the intimate, intense atmosphere created by the support would disappear.
I cannot tell you how wrong I was. Glen opened with the first track from his debut, ‘You Will Become’, an incredible, emotional performance which continued throughout the show. Introducing almost every song with a hushed voice and a rambling explanation, stating before playing ‘Come Away to the Water’ that “there’s always a story at the beginning”, I was made to feel comfortable and welcome while I enjoyed the music.
It was amazing to see how much fun the band seemed to have playing with each other, constantly exchanging glances, grooving away with their whole bodies and grinning, especially during an entirely unexpected yet fantastic cover of ‘Respect’ – yes, the Arethra Franklin song. It was easy to see why so many of Glen’s guitars were worn completely through the way that he was playing.
In fact, it seemed that the only reason the band was on a stage was so that everyone could see them playing, the tone of the show was so personal. This feeling only grew throughout the set, which included several solo numbers, or at least with a drastically reduced band, and a couple of short, impromptu jams. Most of all, in a truly wonderful moment towards the end of the set, Glen voiced what I suspect was everybody’s desire and invited the audience to come and sit on the floor in front of the stage, complaining of the fact that “architecture sometimes gets in the way”. It was an amazing atmosphere; every single person I could see was smiling and utterly engrossed in the music, which at that moment in time was a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘When I paint my Masterpiece’, followed by a not-quite-cover of The Frame’s ‘Fitzcarraldo’, and ‘ending’ on a very emotional rendition of ‘The Song of Good Hope’, dedicated to a friend of his at the side of the stage.
I write ‘ending’ because the concert continued for a good hour after this point. I can’t be exceptionally detailed because my notes as become increasingly sparse and illegible because I was so caught up in the performance. The encore began entirely acoustically, with a few band members huddled at the front of the stage, playing directly to the grinning faces at their feet at the edge. The audience was intensely silent, tangibly hanging on every note. That’s not to say he left out everybody else – they returned to the mics for a few more numbers featuring some delicious vocal harmonies from Lisa Hannigan, and finally ending around midnight on an extended acoustic version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Passing Through’. The whole band, lined along the front of the stage, created a truly magical atmosphere before walking through the audience whilst we all sang along in low voices, clicking rather than clapping.
When the band finally left the stage for the last time, every face I saw looked dazed, glazed over with a warm feeling of joy. It was an amazing night in so many ways; the music, the atmosphere, the people. It’s nights like this that make me love what I do.
Photos courtesy of Luca Gandolfi, a lovely guy and talented photographer I met at the concert. Check out some more photos here.