Olympia Theatre, Dublin
This was the first of a series of Dublin shows to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Glen Hansard’s durable band, and quite fittingly, the performance acted as something of a microcosm of their entire career: a slow start before they moved up a gear halfway through, kindling an extraordinary bond with the crowd, and ultimately creating something rather special.
The relationship between The Frames and their fans is probably the most intensely devotional in Irish music – beforehand, many in the crowd could be heard discussing when they first saw them play, when the affair began, so to speak. Hansard has long been a divisive figure in the Irish musical landscape, but the extraordinary success he has enjoyed in recent years – the sell-out US Swell Season tours, the Oscar – has allowed Hansard to ignore the begrudgers, and these concerts feel like a reward for the hardcore loyalists who have so loved the band over the past 20 years.
How those two decades have flown by – the flecks of grey in Hansard’s rusty beard are about the only concessions to aging, with fiddler Colm Mac Con Iomaire as wiry and unassuming as ever, and Joe Doyle still a boyish presence on bass. But early on Hansard warns against the perils of nostalgia: “Always look forward,” he says, emphatically, “fuck the past.”
The early part of the set fails to capture a somewhat restless crowd, and though all the ingredients of a classic Frames show are there - the rambling song intros, the snippets of other songs, singalong choruses - it doesn’t quite come together until they start into Lay Me Down. There is nobody who can conduct a crowd with the skill and good-humoured élanthat Hansard displays - when he forges a bond with an audience, it is almost as if they become his marionettes, dancing and singing as he pulls the strings from the stage.
The final few songs are an exhilarating run through the crowd favourites, including a rousing Revelate, an expansive and entrancing Santa Maria,and a full-blooded Monument. They finish with a stirring version of The Auld Triangle, dedicated to Damien Dempsey, and by then nobody wants the night to finish. Though the band do leave the stage, and the house lights do come on, it is clear that The Frames are determined to keep looking forward.