The Frames – Live at Vicar St., Dublin, March 30th, 2011

Glen Hansard is looking back. During this month alone, the 40-year old creative force behind The Frames and Swell Season has revisited two vital periods of his remarkable career: the 20th Anniversary of The Commitments and 10 years since the release of The Frames’ masterpiece, For the Birds. Given the dedication and loyalty of the band’s fan base, it’s safe to assume that many here tonight were at the Olympia a decade ago, when the band played the Dame Street venue on the day of the album’s release. Although the audience has brought their own memories from the intervening 10 years to Vicar St, further context is given in the form of an impassioned- if overzealous- preamble by a friend of the band as he discusses how the record traveled from Ventry to Chicago to Dublin and beyond. When he opines how much the album means to him, everyone immediately gets him.

As the opening arpeggiated chord and lilting piano lines of majestic album opener ‘In the Deep Shade’ break the silence, we are, as with every listen, placed under its spell. While songs, like live staple ‘Lay Me Down’, are performed faithfully and proficiently, some songs, in particular ‘Headlong’ and ‘What Happens When the Heart Just Stops’ allow the band to spin off course, engage in the moment, and find their way back into the song’s signature hook. Clearly energized by having guitarist / producer Dave Odlum back in the fold for the night’s performance, Hansard & Co. deliver a stunning ‘Santa Maria’ and finish with an equally defiant and hypnotic ‘Mighty Sword’. It’s the most convincing and definitive live performance of these songs and, by proxy, a definitive Frames performance.

Following the closing notes of ‘Mighty Sword’, the band exit and Hansard invites novelist Roddy Doyle to read ‘Blood’, a short story taken from his forthcoming collection Bullfighting. Doyle’s hilarious, modern day gothic story offers humor and respite for an audience still in awe from the opening half of the evening. Predictably, the band saunter back on stage and deliver a set comprising of Fitzcarraldo / Dance the Devil… era material. As with many of The Frames’ Dublin gigs, it’s after this that the night takes a ‘Last Waltz’ kind of turn. Hansard invites Damien Rice on stage and in a bewildering performance, Rice performs a new song, not dissimilar in tempo to ‘The Blower’s Daughter’. Fellow Commitment star Bronagh Gallagher then performs Aretha Franklin’s ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’. Following this, support act Interference are invited back for a rendition of ‘Gold’. Penned by front man Fergus O’Farrell and featured in Jon Carney’s Once, we are reminded of O’Farrell’s considerable talents as a vocalist.

In a bizarre turn of events, a barefooted Liam O’Maonlai takes to the stage and dilutes the second half of the show. Looking like Gene Franklin – Will Ferrell’s ‘More Cowbell’ character – on his way home from a party at Charlie Sheen’s gaff, O’Maonlai is clearly unaware that everyone at Vicar St is here to celebrate 10 years of For the Birds. His pseudo-spiritual, Irish language weird-folk song is embarrassing, boring and takes away from the night. It is swiftly followed by a cringe worthy, 20 minute jam. O’Maonlai is determined to take over proceedings and heckles of “piss off, O’Maonlai” don’t, unfortunately, deter him. It’s not until he rounds off his evening with a cover of Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’, that O’Maonlai mercifully exits the stage and allows Hansard to reclaim control.

Introducing “one last special guest”, Hansard, flanked by the remaining members of Mic Christopher’s The Mary Janes, performs a triumphant rendition of Christopher’s classic, ‘Heyday’, which now feels like an attempt to rescue the show. One can’t help but feel that the night should have ended after the band’s ‘best of’ encore. Hansard’s generosity towards other performers is gracious. However, when over-bearing performers mar the proceedings by attempting to steal the show, something is lost. That the night lasted three hours is of little consolation; had it ended sooner, it would have been the stuff of undisputed legend – now it’s a night remembered only for how it went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Originally published on

©  Philip Cummins. All rights reserved.

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