All words: Erin Holmes
All photos: Julia Benton
Confession: Prior to Sunday’s concert at the 9:30 Club, I considered myself a Glen Hansard fan, not a Frames fan. I was first introduced to this red-bearded Irishman in the low-budget indie film Once, immediately acquired its soundtrack, cried a little when his song “Falling Slowly” got the underdog win for Best Original Song at the 2008 Academy Awards, bought his latest album Strict Joy and saw him twice this past summer on tour. But, prior to Sunday, all of my familiarity with Glen Hansard revolved around him being half of a dynamic duo called The Swell Season: the immensely-talented Czech-singer-songwriter-musician Marketa Irglova co-starred in Once, co-wrote the Academy-Award winning “Falling Slowly,” and makes up the other half of the collaborative group which has culminated in two albums and international appearances on tour and at music festivals for the past couple years.
Now as 22-year old Marketa tries things out on her own, Glen also shifts gears from The Swell Season to return back to his main outfit The Frames, an Irish band that has been around since 1990 (Marketa was only two years old back then!). As I said, I am a Glen Hansard fan— so where he goes, I will follow. And that is how I found myself at the 9:30 Club on Sunday night, November 21st, the third U.S. stop of The Frames’ highly-anticipated 20th anniversary reunion tour. I was impressed and eager for my first Frames experience, and ultimately, it was not so different from The Swell Season experience. This may be due to the fact that The Frames themselves played back-up for Glen and Marketa this past summer, even coming forward often to play a Frames tune. So Sunday was vaguely familiar: there was still Glen’s passionate crooning and signature battered guitar (the one from Once with the hole in it), violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s impressive solos, audience participation, and plenty of joke-and-story-telling by Glen between songs (one I even, admittedly, had already heard from him).
But the main difference from The Swell Season I would say in two words: “more sound.” The mellow Frames tunes I had heard Glen sing this summer such as “What Happens When the Heart Just Stops” (this time with an AWESOME Van Morrison “Caravan” interlude at the end), “Lay Me Down,” and “Seven Day Mile” all had fuller instrumental accompaniment and more of a rock feel. Each musician contributed more often and more loudly. The Frames are a real band, and while Glen may be the key ingredient and principal songwriter of the group, violinist Colm and bassist Joe Doyle are also crucial to most of the performances. I missed Marketa a little more than I thought I would, and I was not too fond of the heavy keyboarding that sometimes drowned out group’s talented vocals, guitars, and violin… But I did enjoy hearing more percussion and more loud, toe-tapping songs from Glen and the boys, such as “God Bless Mom,” “Rent Day Blues,” “Pavement Tune,” and “Revelate.”
It was a nice change of pace when Glen performed “Disappointed” alone (Colm sat in the shadows then came in at the end of the song), and although I was expecting more Glen solos like this one it was definitely more enjoyable to see the great chemistry of The Frames play out on stage throughout the entire show (something I felt like I was missing at times with The Swell Season). The energy on stage and in the crowd was fantastic on Sunday; there was the sense that this was genuinely a special experience for 9:30 Club-goers and The Frames themselves (Glen also heavily praised and thanked the people at the 9:30 Club for always being so welcoming and wonderful when it’s so difficult to be like that these days in the industry… Props to the 9:30 crew!).
The Frames played nearly twenty five songs— a solid mix from their 20-year-long catalogue— for a little over two hours, which in itself is pretty remarkable. They also performed a couple fun covers and improvisations (fans look forward to these just as much as Frames songs), such as “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka at the end of their own “Star Star,” and even Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” at the end of “Perfect Opening Line,” the latter complete with Glen moonwalking, “HEE-HEE”-ing, and joking (while still playing) that they had no idea how they were going to get out of this divergence. Frames fans also gave great responses to the very powerful “Santa Maria” and to the night’s closer (of the nearly-six-song encore) “Fitzcarraldo,” a Frames-classic that had yet to be played on this U.S. tour! Woo-hoo, tour debut!
Possibly the best treat for the crowd and highlight of the evening was (surprisingly!) an extremely new, never-before performed and still untitled song featuring Jake Clemons— he was the night’s opening act, a similar-styled storytelling, passionate musician (and did I mention he’s the nephew of E Street’s Clarence Clemons??)— on saxophone. Glen warned that the song would be “rough as houses” and even jokingly-called it “Rough Houses” before playing… But wow, if THAT was a “rough” cut, I can only imagine what it will sound like “clean.” Will definitely be holding out for that one and for future Frames music in general (*but remember, this is only coming from a Glen Hansard fan and now, after Sunday night, a NEW Frames fan*).