Gig review: Glen Hansard at Leeds City Varieties Music Hall

Part performance, part catharsis, the singer-songwriter turns personal tragedy into a performance for the ages with emphatic brilliance and raw power.
Glen Hansard. Picture: Stephan VanFleterenGlen Hansard. Picture: Stephan VanFleteren
Glen Hansard. Picture: Stephan VanFleteren

The lights are a distraction for Glen Hansard. Beard streaked with colour, caught alone on the stage at the City Varieties Music Hall, the singer-songwriter is gentle but clipped in his words to the man behind his audience desperately fiddling with the controls to twist the brightness down. “It’s been a strange day,” he murmurs by way of apology.

The mystery of his words is realised a few songs later, when he strikes up a delicately cast Bird of Sorrow. “This is for my father-in-law, who passed away today,” he acknowledges. “It’s great that you get to tour the world, to see this. But it’s tough on days like these.”

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He pauses, then admits he almost left for Helsinki, to return to his family and his home before the show. A lone clap echoes in the balcony, and then a rush of empathy and applause rises from the shadows of the stalls. He nods, and bows.

Hansard is in Leeds as part of a solo acoustic tour behind last year’s fifth record under his own name, All That Was East Is West of Me Now. As frontman of Irish rock veterans The Frames, and one half of The Swell Season, his folk-inflected songcraft has woven its way beneath the fabric of modern music, yet with a curious air of intimate anonymity.

He is a musician’s musician, and here, mostly alone with two guitars and a piano, he fits his surroundings like a well-worn glove.

The result is an evening part performance, part catharsis. Transitioning between instruments and selections from his back catalogue, the 53-year-old casts a spell nothing short of magical.

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The delicate electricity of Between Us There Is Music gives way to the raw, concussive howl of When Your Mind’s Made Up, while others such as I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Everyday and Revelate are framed as emotional tributes to the city’s former Duchess of York venue.

When Falling Slowly climaxes at the end of the main set, there are few dry eyes left in the house, but Hansard is not done yet. “There’s one song I need to sing for my son,” he says, before he unspools a beautiful Factory Street Blues.

When the standing ovation greets him, he looks close to tears himself. “My apologies to the lighting guy,” he offers. Nobody will be chasing one from a man who has poured his soul out here.

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