Making his Royal Festival Hall debut, the Oscar and Grammy-award winner Glen Hansard is strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a cod-reggae ditty about bananas. It’s a surreal highlight of a two-hour show that’s a snapshot of an artist in flux, caught between picking at his wounded heart and throwing slinky dance moves to his blossoming southern soul.
Backed by a 12-piece band including brass and strings, Hansard’s powerful voice, whether raw with passion or tender with regret, shines above arrangements both chillingly sparse and bursting with horn stamps and swagger. Often singing a capella, Hansard forgoes the mic for a startling rendition of Grace Beneath the Pines that’s as much sermon as song, but throws himself into the Stax-y bluster of Roll on Slow, from his latest album, Between Two Shores, with equal abandon.
The singer-songwriter relishes his finely tuned freedom. One moment, he’s alone at the piano, relaying the haunting words of a homeless man; the next, Hansard guffaws through a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s Old Man Trump, updated to include references to the president – and son of the landlord contemptuously portrayed in the original song. Wedding Ring is dedicated to “anyone who’s ever had his album reviewed from a gender perspective”, and comes with a warning that the song contains the words “darling” and “baby”, before Hansard breathes fresh life into Fitzcarraldo by his old band the Frames. Rewarded by numerous standing ovations, he pleases himself with a gorgeous rendition of the Pogues’ A Rainy Night in Soho, leaving the awed crowd to wonder what direction he’ll take next.