Glen Hansard performs at the 9:30 Club

Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard spins his emotionally weathered set at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC. Photo: Katherine Clark

WASHINGTON, October 2, 2012 — Knowing too much about a musician’s personal life can have an odd effect on you when you see him live. This is especially true for a singer/songwriter like Glen Hansard, who specializes in creating an emotionally honest and almost confessional style of music.

So it wasn’t surprising that his recent Wednesday night show at the 9:30 Club Wednesday had something of a cleansing effect on his audience, indicating that the very public wounds he’s suffered in his personal life that inspired his most recent string of songs have healed somewhat with the passage of time.

Glen Hansard, in concert. (All photos, credit Katherine Clark.)

Glen Hansard has been playing music for as long as anyone cares to remember, starting out busking on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. He got his professional start when he formed the folk rock band The Frames in the early ‘90s, and also won fame for his role in the surprise Irish rock-and-roll hit film, The Commitments—a break from his own musical career which he is said to have come to regret.

His career trajectory took a major turn this year with the release of his first true solo album Rhythm and Repose. One of the songs available on the deluxe edition of that album, “Come Away to the Water,” was included on the soundtrack of this year’s hit film, “The Hunger Games.”

But changes in Hansard’s life and career started earlier when he met Markéta Irglová, a young Czech musician and songwriter a number of years his junior. The duo performed together in the Swell Season and starred together in the 2007 film “Once.” This relatively popular film took Hansard’s career to another level with the help of the single “Falling Slowly.” But it’s also where his hitherto platonic relationship with Irglová turned into something considerably more serious. When their romantic relationship came to an end in 2009, Hansard accepted it with a heavy heart.

Glen Hansard on guitar. (Credit: Katherine Clark.)

It’s entirely possible to read far too much into the creative output of artists from their personal lives. But in the end, artistic ideas often spring from deeply emotional life experiences, both good and bad. The story of Hansard and Irglová’s relationship engulfed the life-narrative surrounding both “Once” and the duo’s professional partnership. This slice of his personal life also informed Hansard’s performance at the 9:30 Club, whether it was intentional or not.

One of the important things to remember when listening to Hansard is just how much he wraps himself in his music. This is especially true when he’s performing live. Even listening to the audio with your eyes closed, you can tell Hansard wears every emotion on his sleeve. But actually seeing him perform adds a new layer of meaning to this perception. Hansard can’t help but show the effects of every emotion-draining lyric on his slightly tired and weathered face. It’s easy to hear and feel the personal hurt that radiates through his songs on his solo album, and the point is driven home when you see him, as during his live set at 9:30.

Glen Hansard digs in for the emotions. (Credit: Katherine Clark.)

Hansard’s songs could easily have carried the night on their own. But it is Hansard’s emotive style of performing, both vocally and physically, that really sells the product. If an audience member were somehow able to put his show on mute, they’d still be able to grasp the weary, tired, yet hopeful vibe that each of his songs evokes just by observing his facial expressions.

And that’s what makes Hansard’s live performance seriously engrossing. Everyone in the audience feels the intense pain present in many of his songs, note only musically, but even more intensely through the way he is able to physically project his passions, with his distinctly Irish brogue accentuating every word. It’s unclear whether his songs would still radiate this effect if his fans were not as knowledgeable about his personal life as they are. But this knowledge ultimately enhances the audiences’ obvious and deep connection with his, passionate and emotionally fraught songs.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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