Words: Brendan O’Mahony
Live Photos: Olga Kuzmenko
If you had to ask me to describe a perfect day then I would have to say sitting side by side with my wife drinking a few pints of Guinness in the Gravediggers pub in Glasnevin on a warm summers day in Dublin, followed by nearly four hours of the best live music and storytelling money can buy, is pretty much it. The energy and excitement emanating from the initiated is palpable, from those standing patiently in the merch queue to get the highly sought after signed tour posters to the fans introducing friends or family to rock royalty for the first time. Today is the day that Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard finish up their European tour together and they, along with everyone else in attendance, are determined to make the most of it.
Taking our seats just in time, the cheer goes up for Glen Hansard as he comes into view from behind the stage. A seasoned veteran and leader of one of the best alternative rock bands to have emerged from Ireland in The Frames, Hansard immediately draws everyone in as he opens with the perfect one-two of ‘Bird of Sorrow’ and ‘High Hope’ from his 2012 solo album Rhythm and Repose, before ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’, from his folk-rock project The Swell Season, has the crowd rising to their feet as the emotion builds and builds. Introducing ‘Shelter’ Hansard launches a scathing attack on our current Minister for Foreign Affairs who, in a previous guise as Minister for Housing, promised to address the growing issue of homelessness in Ireland as a whole, but especially Dublin, during the Apollo House Occupation of Christmas 2016. As it stands the number of people who have become homeless has nearly doubled in the two and a half years since a fact sadly mirrored in the increasing incompetence of those put in positions to try and fix the issue.
Following on with a breathtaking acapella version of ‘Grace Beneath the Pines’ and the absolute classic ‘Revelate’ from The Frames album Fitzcaraldo, the masterclass in musicianship continues unabated. The stomping blues of ‘Way Back in the Way Back When’, sung for all the economic migrants in the audience from Cork and beyond, keeps the crowd on their feet before we are graced with ‘That’s Alright Mama’, sung/screamed by the Doran brothers, two children that Hansard professes he will be babysitting after the show. Closing out with ‘This Gift’ Hansard explains how he introduced Eddie Vedder to the delights of his new home town of Celbridge, finally getting into bed at 11 am, before being rudely awoken by a bunch of Pearl Jam fans hoping for a glimpse of their hero to which he apologetically explained “he is not here, now get the fuck off my lawn.”
As the changeover is completed the house lights dim and the Red Limo String Quartet quietly takes up position to stage right. They open with a string version of ‘Alive’ which has the crowd singing even before Eddie Vedder makes his appearance, to which he receives a standing ovation having not yet uttered a word, such is the reverence for the man himself and the expectation of what is to come. Composing himself, he sits at the organ and opens with ‘Cross the River’ before moving to centre stage, picking up his acoustic guitar and sending shivers down the spine of everyone with ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’. You know it’s going to be a good night when 10,000 people are singing in unison and you are just beginning. What follows is pure perfection from the mini Pearl Jam set including jaw-dropping performances of ‘Indifference’ and ‘Just Breathe’, which he dedicates to his wife, along with ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Wishlist’ to the covers from Tom Petty, ‘Wildflowers’, and U2’s, ‘In God’s Country’.
The Into The Wild soundtrack provides us with the trio of ‘Far Behind’, ‘Guaranteed’ and ‘Rise’ as the film imagery comes flashing back, with Vedder musing about the songs he thought Chris McCandless might have listened to as he traveled across the American continent. The truly awesome ‘Immortality’ follows along with the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘My City of Ruins’, with Glen Hansard joining in on the organ. Most bands would be just about finishing by this stage but Vedder is only half done. The opening notes of ‘Black’ ring out and as the vocals fill the air it is clear that we are witnessing something special. As the house lights are turned up, I turn to witness those around me seeing every joyous emotion from smiles to tears as 20,000 arms reach for the sky. It is moments like this that make shows special and why people follow artists or bands on tour night after night. With ‘Corduroy’ and ‘Porch’ following on we are finally given a moment to take stock as Vedder heads backstage to replenish his drink.
The encore begins as we started the evening with the Red Limo String Quartet playing over images of the Cliffs of Moher, Phil Lynott’s statue and pictures of Glen and Eddie together before they segue into ‘Even Flow’ with the crowd once again handling vocal duties while lead violinist Rani Kumar channels his inner Mike McCready. As Eddie Vedder returns the always hoped for ‘Better Man’ is unleashed. I don’t think there is a superlative to describe getting to witness it live but it inspires a hope that one day I could write or be involved in a song as great as that. Glen Hansard returns to the stage to help out once again and it’s heart-warming to see how close their friendship has become over the years, with the respect for each other’s craft and the love for each other as people clear to see. Hansard’s ‘Song of Good Hope’ sees Eddie reach out to those in the first few rows, shaking hands and receiving flowers before the Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’ tears the house down. The job of rebuilding is left to the Queen cover ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ which had somewhat of a false start due to being in the wrong key, claimed to be the damned and mysteriously unknown key of J messing things up. It is dedicated to the singer of the tribute band Qween who managed to catch up with the lads in Celbridge but who couldn’t attend the show due to an illness in the family. As the stories of their adventures continue, they manage to work in an introduction to ‘The Auld Triangle’ with the familiar opening verse then joined by dedications to the country of Ireland, the hope for the homeless crisis to be fixed and to Eddie’s wife who is part Irish, keeping the fans in full voice. As ‘Hard Sun’ bellows through the amphitheatre and comes to its crescendo there is hope yet for more to which the man himself duly obliges with a fitting cover of ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’.
To have been able to witness such a show was an honour. Both are men of the people who wish to keep hope alive and they have provided an unforgettable musical experience. At times intimate while at other times expansive, they conjure up feelings and emotions for all in attendance achieving a true human connection.