Glen Hansard is a successful singer/songwriter, he has won an Oscar, and his songs were part of a Broadway musical that took home a truckload of Tonys. But in his chest still beats the heart of the busker he — pardon the expression — “Once” was.
Several times during his rapturous two-hour concert at the Pageant on Monday night, the Irish native abandoned the microphone and sang with an intensity and intimacy that seemed to shrink the near-capacity crowd to a circle of onlookers surrounding a singer on Dublin’s Grafton Street.
The first was at the top of the show, with Hansard standing at the lip of the stage, singing “Grace Beneath the Pines” over a string trio, then eventually his full nine-piece band. During the encore, the entire cast and crew (and audience) joined in for an off-mic, a cappella singalong of Brendan Behan’s “The Auld Triangle” followed by a silly drinking song, “Dancing Round the Big Old Bag of Cans.”
Right before that, though, was one of those crazy, spontaneous occurrences that helped make the show one of the year’s most memorable.
Hansard had the lights brought up and asked, “Who’s the lady who called for ‘Say It to Me Now’ and I shut you down?’ When she was located, Hansard grabbed his guitar, made his way deep into the crowd and serenaded her from atop a barstool.
It was a special moment that revealed Hansard’s sincere connection with his audience as well as his devil-may-care attitude.
And he allowed the moment to linger when he was joined there by guitarist Rob Bochnik and the two sang Fergus O’Farrel’s “Gold.”
Even under conventional circumstances, the show contained many more fine moments.
Hansard played songs from his most recent album, “Didn’t He Ramble, including the ebullient “Winning Streak” and the romantic, yet regretful “McCormack’s Wall.”
He took “My Little Ruin” from a whisper to a roof-raising roar, repeating the feat immediately with “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” a song that dates back to his days with the Frames.
Playing his already beat-to-death acoustic guitar with such fervor that it seemed like he might reduce the instrument to kindling — and then set that kindling on fire — Hansard delivered a raging solo version of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.”
He went easier on the guitar when he played his signature song from the film and musical “Once,” “Falling Slowly.”
Hansard is blessed with the gift of gab, and his between-song stories were by turns funny, poignant and pointed.
Checking the latter two boxes, he introduced the gritty “Way Back in the Way Back When” by recalling his recent European tour, where he witnessed “a whole people on the march, trying to find somewhere to be.” Without mentioning Syrian refugees specifically, he mused, “You know, Irish, English, American, what does it mean? When you see people moving across the land like they are right now, you think, ‘I’m a citizen of the world.’”
The Pageant audience was one of the best the venue has ever seen: pin-drop quiet during and in-between songs and responsive when called upon to sing along. Aiofe O’Donovan, who opened the show, expressed her appreciation after she got the same respectful treatment for her gorgeous half-hour set.
“This is the gig of the tour for me,” Hansard enthused before closing the show with “Her Mercy.” It was impossible not to believe him.
Grace Beneath the Pines
Just to Be the One
My Little Ruin
When Your Mind’s Made Up
Bird of Sorrow
Paying My Way
Love don’t Leave me Waiting
Way Back in the Way Back When
Didn’t He Ramble
Say It To Me Now
The Auld Triangle
Dancing Round the Big Old Bag of Cans
Jody Mitori • 314-340-8240
@jmitori on Twitter