Glen Hansard (Morris Shamah/Northern Exposure)

Glen Hansard brought his solo tour to London for two nights at Union Chapel. This solo tour is the latest promotional tour for Glen’s newest album, 2023’s All That Was East Is West Of Me Now, which saw him returning to his rock-oriented roots from his recording days with The Frames

All That Was East Is West Of Me Now was originally promoted back in the fall with a full band UK and Europe tour, and Glen will be taking the band back out in the summer and fall of this year across Europe and America, and supporting Pearl Jam. It’s a busy year for Glen and his band, but for a brief few weeks, Glen is out there on his own, on this solo tour across the UK, supported by Dr. Martin Shaw

Glen is an incredibly generous performer, who puts everything he has into every single song and performance every night, solo or with the band. Case in point – Glen came out to do a song and introduction prior to Martin Shaw’s opening set. Martin Shaw, a storyteller and mythologist, then went on to tell a 30 minute fairy tale in the Scandinavian tradition, sometimes accompanying himself on percussion. At the end of his epic story, centered around a pair of girls dealing with identity and freedom, he challenged the audience. Now that you’ve heard this story, he asked, “what are you going to do with it?” (In keeping with Glen Hansard tradition, Martin came back out to tell a shorter follow up story between the main set and the encore.)

Glen started his show with Bird Of Sorrow, a lament from his first solo record, which set the tone for the evening – this is a dark ride. Glen’s solo shows have always highlighted a different side to him than his full band shows. These performances are generally more freewheeling, with more audience interjection and guest artists, and more dynamic setlists. There’s a real sense that anything can happen at a Glen Hansard solo show, as the busker side emerges and takes back the reins from Glen the rockstar. This April run evolved that tradition, setlists were a bit more static – just a bit – but the vibe, much more somber.

All That Was East Is West Of Me Now is a bleak record, and this show reflected that. Over two thirds of that record was played, including the absolutely haunting Down On Our Knees which closed the main set. Even the lighter material, such as 2015’s Winning Streak, was played a bit more subdued than usual. When Your Mind’s Made Up, from the Oscar-winning Once, was played furiously, with a feedback and effects-pedal frenzy climax at the end that was astonishingly powerful. Revelate, an older song from The Frames, was similarly intense, Glen playing his electric guitar like it was a thunderstorm, with Martin Shaw almost keeping up on percussion. Intense is definitely the word for this edition of Glen Hansard solo.

Interestingly, the solo arrangements of the All That Was East Is West Of Me Now material really suits those songs, despite them being some of his most rock-band-esque in decades. The darkness in the lyrics really comes through, and Glen’s unwavering courage in performing them shines more brightly – or darkly, I suppose – without the band behind him. They’re not better in this context, but they are equally different. What might be lost in dynamic instrumentation is gained in starkness and concentrated strength. If the full band material is a cocktail of sound, this is whiskey, cask strength, served neat and in a dusty glass.

It helped that there has never been a venue more suited to a show than Union Chapel is to this one. The grandiosity of the church, undefined and without any visible religious symbols, the wind howling as Glen plays Ghost, the slight discomfort of wooden pews and stone brick walls, it all came together perfectly for a show this unrelenting. It was an evening that’s impossible to really define, but certainly imprinted itself on our consciousness.

Setlist

Pre-Show:

  1. Carrickfergus (traditional) 

Main set:

  1. Bird of Sorrow
  2. Sure As The Rain
  3. One of Us Must Lose
  4. Time Will Be the Healer
  5. Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting
  6. Winning Streak
  7. When Your Mind’s Made Up
  8. Ghost
  9. There’s No Mountain
  10. Stuck in Reverse
  11. The Feast of St. John
  12. Don’t Settle
  13. Bearing Witness
  14. This Gift (with Charlotte Blokhuis on vocals)
  15. Falling Slowly (with Charlotte Blokhuis on vocals)
  16. Leave a Light
  17. American Townland (Interference cover)
  18. Down On Our Knees

Encore:

  1. Revelate (with Martin Shaw on percussion)
  2. Her Mercy (with Martin Shaw on Percussion and Charlotte Blokhuis on vocals)
  3. High Hope (with Martin Shaw on Percussion and Charlotte Blokhuis on vocals)