with gallery: Glen Hansard, Iron and Wine team up for powerful, memorable night of songs at the Michigan Theater
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Two tributaries of the roots music mainstream converged at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, during a loose, spirited performance that celebrated, above all, the power of song.
Nominally sharing headlining duties, Iron and Wine and Glen Hansard brought drastically different approaches to their sets, both giving fans what they wanted, while clearly having fun and enjoying the reform nature of the show.
Stretching what he though was to be a 45-minute set to 75 minutes, Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam looked to the audience for help, inviting suggestions for songs to play, then gamely attempting many—whether or not he knew them all the way through
"Contrary to public opinion, I don’t play all these songs every day,” he deadpanned after restarting a tune due to a botched lyric.
“Which sucks for you.”
Actually, it didn’t. There was an in-the-moment charm to Beam’s solo set that, despite some rough edges, was fresh and genuine.
Ironically, when Beam was joined midway through his set by a keyboardist and mandolinist/guitarist, the very same looseness that bolstered him on his own, betrayed the band.
The bigger sound wasn’t necessarily better. Although occasionally able to latch onto a groove and build it into something over Beam’s circular tunes, the process of getting there wasn’t always pretty—particularly a plodding, reimagined version of the country standard “Long Black Veil.”
Beam is a terrific songwriter and a beautiful singer, whose songs, on Saturday anyway, benefitted more from the starker approach of just Beam and his guitar.
As mentioned earlier, Saturday’s show was nominally a two-headliner affair. But let’ be honest: who’s ever going to follow Hansard’s act—if it’s even an act.
Backed by his old band, The Frames, as well as horn and string sections, Hansard was his usual force-of-nature self, getting over immediately with his Sprintsteen-esque stage presence and a voice that can strip paint.
“We feel really fortunate to be able to be here and to sing for you,” said Hansard, who won an Academy Award for his song “Falling Slowly” from the movie “Once.”
And one really got the feeling he meant it.
Starting on piano, then moving over to acoustic and electric guitars, Hansard was fully in charge from the start, mixing songs from his new record, “Rhythm and Repose,” with a handful of Swell Season favorites, some well-chosen covers and even a Frames tune.
Hansard is a stylistic chameleon and on Saturday, he swerved easily from gospel-inflected soul to rootsy rockers to gentle piano ballads, infusing each with an enthusiasm that’s impossible to resist.
That it all worked so well was a testament not only to his talent, but also to his charisma and the obvious joy he brough to the task.
One high-water mark found him long onstage deconstructing Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” into an over-driven guitar freakout, only to seamlessly piece it back together. Another came in the form of Hansard and the Frames improvising a surprisingly solid cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.”
In anyone else’s hands, such a move might come off as cloying. But Hansard’s joy—as it was throughout the show—was more than enough to carry it off.
But he wasn't done yet. As he closed the encore, Hansard and the band jumped off the stage and strolled through the theater, singing, playing and, essentially, securing a permanent place in Michigan Theater history.
Yeah, nobody wants to follow that act.