They say you should never meet your heroes as they never live up to expectations. Leading up to this gig I was worried that the same principle applied to seeing one of your favourite artists live. After discovering Glen though the usual method, falling deeply in love with the movie Once, I’ve become a deep admirer of his artistry. Although not always captured by the studio versions, the energy of his live performances that I’ve seen online are just in a whole other league. He sings with such passion, as though music were his sole purpose and he is giving away his very life-force to his songs. Some of these have proven to be some of my favourite live performances of all time, videos that I watch almost religiously. That is an awful lot of expectation to live up to, but when Glen announced a new tour I decided it was a risk I had to take.
As much as I try to cover the support act in live reviews, sadly this time around I didn’t catch enough of their set (or even their name) to really form an opinion. Barbican Hall as it turns out is an actual maze. When I eventually found the right door after wandering the labyrinthine corridors, I took my seat for only the last couple of songs. The enigmatic french duo’s experimental take on folk is the kind of music that requires more time and attention than that to really get the full measure of them. I will say however that anyone crazy enough to play the cello and the drums simultaneously gets a tick in my book.
When Glen and his vast backing band, all adorned in black reminding me instantly of The Commitments, took to the stage it was straight down to business as they dived into tracks from his brand new album This Wild Willing. While I was pretty on the fence with the studio versions, in a live setting these new tracks were delivered with the impetus which I felt was previously lacking, but still maintaining the same mystical atmosphere. It was also great to get some insight into the meanings and stories behind some of the album’s highlights like ‘The Closing Door’ and ‘Race to the Bottom’.
Naturally though it was his older material that proved to be the highlight of the night. The night’s rendition of ‘Leave’ began as a joke at the expense of someone taking pictures with a flash, and ended with the emotional intensity that the track is best known for. I’ve never known a song be able to make me both laugh and cry, and I doubt it is something I will experience again. I’m not the sobbing kind of gig-goer, but I doubt there was a dry eye in the crowd for what has become his signature song ‘Falling Slowly’. Singing unplugged, his voice filling the hall but somehow still feeling gentle and vulnerable, the crowd was utterly silent and spellbound. That’s not to say the crowd didn’t get their chance to sing. When Glen launched into a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ he turned the lights on to the audience and was determined not to carry on until someone came and joined him. Some fellow right at the back rightfully leapt at the chance, and did a bang-up job to boot!
But as for that elusive feeling that I’d been looking for, the kind that so very few artists have ever been able to evoke, I’m pleased to say I found it. Almost book-ending the set in fact, in ‘When You Mind’s Made Up’ and the Frames classic ‘Fitzcarraldo’. It was here that Glen sang like his life depended on it, and the band played with all their might to match. He performs as though the very spirit of music itself moves through him, and finally experiencing it firsthand is something that I will cherish forever.