There are few things I enjoy more than seeing my favorite musicians perform on a summer evening. For the second time in a year, I had the privilege of seeing Glen Hansard of The Frames, Once and The Swell Season - a moniker that absolutely describes the joyful fervency with which Hansard strummed, the crowd, enraptured as they watched him, and the sky, cloudless and full with the setting sun.
Held at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Hansard's performance was part of Chicago's FREE concert series, Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays. The whole experience was surprisingly easy to navigate. We took the Union Pacific West Metra to Union Station, walked down Adams to Michigan Avenue [against an onslaught of nine-to-fivers headed out to their trains home, but that was our only difficulty] and made it to the park by 5:30, when lines were just beginning to form. [It's rumored that this was not the case for Iron & Wine's performance three weeks ago, which drew lines 4 hours before the show started.]
And did I mention it was FREE? As in, you do not have to pay to get into the park, or even to get a seat close to the stage. Oh Chicagoans, summer doesn't get any better than this. Except, it does: Goose Island is the main sponsor for the event!
With plenty of time to eat and slip into the pavilion before the show began at 6:30, we ate at one of my favorite casual, quick eateries on Michigan Ave, Caffè Baci. Their curried couscous salad was delicious and refreshing after walking in the hot evening sun.
We found seats close to the stage, maybe 10 rows back; close enough to see him, yet far enough that we weren't going to get mobbed as everyone exited.
And it was perfect. His solo performance was just as moving as seeing him with The Swell Season at the Ravinia last July, although I found him much more candid and talkative on his own.
He opened with the heartbreaking "Leave," followed by a new song, "Pennies," which he has written since being on tour with Eddie Vedder [a great combination I would definitely have paid money to see, had I known it was happening] and other songs that I love, including "Low Rising" from The Swell Season's Strict Joy album, and the ever-popular "Falling Slowly" from Once.
Hansard plays with a passion that is both delicate and explosive. He's not afraid to introduce a song with the premise behind it, to encourage the audience to listen closely to the lyrics, and to reveal this beautiful, underlying truth: when we sway and sing together, we affirm those parts of us that are most human.
When he says, "this song was written for a lover - it's for those of you who struggle because they are not pulling their own weight," or "this song is about seeing a person close to you become who they were meant to be. It is a constant revealing, the veils of who they are constantly being pulled back" and you collectively nod, say "yes, I've been there," it is a communion of thousands that only art can articulate.
[Fun fact: Iron & Wine's Sam Beam directed this video.]
[Images found here.]