LAWRENCE -- The opening number was called “The Storm It’s Coming,” a song off “Rhythm and Repose,” the solo album by Glen Hansard, the headliner Wednesday night at Liberty Hall. “Storm” is a harbinger, a song about profound change on the horizon, and it was apt foreshadowing for a show that took almost 1,000 people on an odyssey through the ever-changing climates of the heart.
He is an unrepentant sentimentalist, romantic and heart-on-his sleeve songwriter and an uncommonly raw, sincere and emotive live performer. Wednesday’s show lasted more than 21/2 hours, time filled with gusts and gales of joy, sorrow, grief, love, anger, pain and spontaneous humor and levity.
He brought with him a 10-piece band that included a three-piece horn section and a three-piece string section. They were a soulful, freewheeling lot.
The show began with four tracks from “Storm,” including the warm and soulful “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” which he tagged with a bit from “Respect,” Aretha Franklin’s signature.
The crowd this evening was extraordinary. When he played something spare and quiet, a heavy hush descended upon the room. When he asked for some vocal help, as during “Back Broke,” he got it, in time and, for the most part, in tune. Between songs, fans shouted encouragement and requests. Somewhere toward the middle of the show, a rabble of fans to his right started singing “Broken-Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” from the “Once” soundtrack. After a half-minute he, then the band, joined them in finishing it.
Several numbers ignited uproars during and after a song. His feral solo-acoustic take on Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” tagged with a verse from Pearl Jam’s “Smile,” was mesmerizing. So was the cathartic break-up anthem “Leave,” another Swell Season song, which sounded issued from the guts of a bone-crushed heart.
The set list included a few Frames songs, such as the cinematic folk tune “Fitzcarraldo” and “Say It to Me Now,” a lovely version of “Over the Rainbow” and a cover of “Drive All Night” that Bruce Springsteen would have admired.
During the encore, he stepped back and played bass while the openers, an Irish duo called the Lost Brothers, nailed a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” (During their set, they paid respects to Andy Williams with an elegant cover of “Moon River.”)
Hansard closed with a solo version of “The Parting Glass,” a lament made well-known by the Clancy Brothers. After he called for a shot of Jameson, a bottle was delivered to the stage and shots were passed around the band. When the song was done, Hansard emptied the bottle down his throat.
They followed that with a rollicking cover of the Band’s “Don’t Do It.” It’s another breakup song, but its sentiments were sweetened by its brassy, soulful arrangement. (A couple of the horn players, incidentally, used to back up Levon Helm.)
As much as any, that song epitomized the message of this long, jubilant night: Life is a journey filled with departures and endings, sadness and regrets. But there are elixirs to the pain, like romance and friendship, good whiskey and transcendent music.
Set list: The Storm It’s Coming; Talking With the Wolves; Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting/Respect; Philander; When Your Mind’s Made Up; Low Rising; Get Up, Stand Up; This Gift; Bird of Sorrow; Leave; Back Broke; Astral Weeks/Smile; Moving On/Maybelline; Broken-Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy; High Hope; Races; Over the Rainbow; Fitzcarraldo; Star Star; Song of Hope. Encore: Say It to Me Now; Gold; All I Have to Do Is Dream (The Lost Brothers); Drive All Night; The Parting Glass; Don’t Do It.| Timothy Finn, The Star