Isn’t it great when you get more then you bargained for? Judging by the line of shivering punters clambering for the Whelan’s door at 8pm sharp on a Sunday night (and equally, the number of assorted late-comers groveling for tickets), Glen Hansard alone was more than enough to keep the crowd happy, and to send a nice big stash of Euros on their way over to Port Au Prince. Glen Hansard, though, doesn’t do things by halves.
When the assembled masses first lift themselves from the beer-swilling collectives that have gathered stage front it’s to greet Mundy, the first of half a dozen surprise guests. The man with the hat is in fine form, running through downbeat hits like -Linchpin’, -Gin And Tonic Sky’ and -Fever’ while peppering his set with stories (wow, he really does hate his hit cover -Galway Girl’), and imitating Hansard in raising his eyebrows at the audience. The Offaly native sets a downbeat tone, even calming -Mexico’ to suit the occasion, but things don’t stay mellow for long.
While Mundy goes down a treat, it’s Glen Hansard the crowd are waiting for, and the Once star’s stage banter and heartfelt repertoire really come to the fore in a limited capacity venue like Whelan’s. The charismatic singer’s clad in farmer chic and strums through a selection of solo-era tracks including -Lies’, -Lay Me Down’ and the magnificently powerful -Revelate’, occasionally dropping in a Frames number for good measure (to a shout of, “we want The Frames back”, Hansard replies “So do I”). Live, Hansard’s all charisma, the perfect man to lead an impassioned crowd on a merry dance of end-of-the-weekend emotion but he’s bought ample friends, and the night’s about to take a swift turn from solid entertainment towards -I was there’ territory.
Seemingly shifting modes from standard gig format to oversized pub session, Hansard invites his cousin to warble through a comedy bar song, before introducing crooning New York alternative star Natalie Merchant, who strums through a soulful two-track mini set, followed by a similar fist pumping cameo from Paul Brady (a musician’s musician if ever there was one – the extensive crowd at the stage door are the most enthralled of all), and a late appearance from Paddy Casey (whose hit -Saints and Sinners’ is accompanied by humming instead of a bass guitar, and no worse for it). The biggest cheer of the night greets the emergence of Damien Rice, whose three songs prompt extravagant standing ovations.
With every musician introduced (not, sadly, including the appearance of Christy Moore – who Natalie Merchant had mistakenly mentioned to the crowd earlier – but hey, that would have been a mammoth cherry on top of an already sumptuous pudding), a revolving door of collaborations takes centre stage. First up is a Prince cover (in the inimitable style of Paddy Casey) followed by a lively version of -Sweet Suburban Sky’ and an immaculate collective cover of Leonard Cohen’s -Hallelujah’ involving Rice, Merchant and Hansard on vocals. Mundy hovers round the back, chipping in on Hansard’s fiddle and Merchant – forced to sing the lyrics to a song she doesn’t know – makes up the lyrics and accuses the crowd of -Irish hazing’.
It’s half midnight by the time the assorted musicians take their last bow, having provided the spoilt Whelan’s throng with four hours of almost non-stop music. To close things off, the entire singer-songwriter selection take to the stage to run through a tear-wrenching rendition of traditional trad set-closer -The Parting Glass’, rounding out an evening that – in bringing in such a host of unannounced stars and taking on a playful, atypical musical outlook – far, far surpassed expectations.
Photos by Kieran Frost.