More than just a singer/songwriter, Glen Hansard is a witty raconteur and a polished entertainer.
Tuesday night, the native of Dublin, Ireland, spent more than two hours heartily engaging a crowd of more than 1,200 with his folk and folk-rock songs, embellishing many of them before and after with commentary or stories filled with humor, poignancy, optimism or romance. He even made note of a local sports team’s winning streak (Chiefs), though he couldn’t remember its name.
Backed by a nine-piece band that included a string duo and a three-piece horn section, Hansard opened with “Grace Beneath the Pines,” the opening track to his latest album, “Didn’t He Ramble,” released in September. “Grace” is a confessional hymn and a vow to forge on: “There’ll be no more going half the way.”
Then came three more from “Ramble,” including “Winning Streak,” a jaunty folk ballad filled with optimism and good wishes: “May the devil’s evil eye / Pass you by / … And may your winning streak / May it never end.” Hansard stumbled over the lyrics in that one, but recovered quickly and with some self-effacing grace.
He followed “My Little Ruin” with “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the first of a few songs from the Swell Season, the duet he formed with Czech singer/songwriter Markéta Irglová. The two starred in the film “Once,” winning an Oscar for the song “Falling Slowly.”
“When Your Mind’s Made Up” is a gritty, brassy folk-rock ballad that bears a New Orleans/second-line vibe, thanks to the wailing horns. It’s also a pledge of friendship and support: “If you ever want something / And you call, call / Then I’ll come running.”
Hansard is a dynamic and diverse songwriter and singer. He can play it slow and quaint, evoking the folk sounds of Cat Stevens or Crosby, Stills and Nash, as he did during “Stay the Road.” Or he can turn it up and get heavy, as he did during the bluesy “Way Back in the Way Back When” and the stormy “Didn’t He Ramble.”
He played a few songs solo-acoustic, including his cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” He dedicated “Paying My Way” to the working class, including the theater’s staff. And he choreographed a couple of singalongs with the crowd. One of those came during the Swell Season’s “Back Broke,” one of many highlights.
“Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting” was another highlight. It included a verse from the Aretha Franklin classic “Respect.” During “This Gift,” he issued peals of falsetto and danced frenetically, like John Belushi mimicking Joe Cocker.
The show ended in a flourish. For the first two songs of the encore, “Say It to Me Now,” a song by Hansard’s former band, the Frames, and “Gold,” he and his guitarist took perch in a side balcony and serenaded the crowd beneath them, unamplified and on acoustic guitars.
They returned to the stage, joined the rest of the band and, with opening act Aoife O’Donovan, performed “Falling Slowly,” which sent more than a few people in the crowd into a near-orgasmic state. Within the song, they dropped a few verses of the traditional Irish ballad “The Parting Glass.”
They closed with “Her Mercy,” another “Ramble” track, which erupted into a gust of stirring gospel-soul. And the crowd responded accordingly: as if it were at a revival and the moment, like the rest of the evening, was a source of deep salvation.
Grace Beneath the Pines; Just to Be the One; Winning Streak; My Little Ruin; When Your Mind’s Made Up; Stay the Road; Astral Weeks; Paying My Way; Back Broke; High Hope; Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting; McCormack’s Wall; Lowly Deserter; Didn’t He Ramble; Way Back in the Way Back When; Bird of Sorrow; This Gift. Encore: Say It to Me Now; Gold; Falling Slowly/The Parting Glass; Her Mercy.