December 18th2020 saw the release ofGlen Hansard: Live at the Sydney Opera House. Following 2019’sThis Wild Willing,the double LP marks Hansard’s first live record as a solo artist, capturing not only the rush and rapture of his much-lauded performances, but also the sense of intimacy and connection those performances engender. In the wake of a tumultuous year, the profits from sales of this album have been earmarked to support ICHH (Inner City Helping Homeless), an Irish organization offering aid in Dublin.
“This year has been a strange one, long yet short. Like drifting in space at times, looking back on a planet in peril,” says Hansard. “It’s hard to raise the fighting spirit, but we need each other, someone to try for, something to rise for.” Though recorded in 2016, Live at the Sydney Opera Houseseems somehow poised to give comfort in the present moment. Album opener “Winning Streak” bestows good wishes as if they were protective charms through “summers long and winters cold,” while “Bird of Sorrow” and “My Little Ruin” find Hansard in the trenches, his voice rising to a crescendo as he promises: “I’m not leaving you here.”
There are lighter moments too: the tender lilt of “McCormack’s Wall,” the gentle “Falling Slowly,” for which Hansard won an Academy Award with Markéta Irglová in 2008, and the honey-drenched promise of “Her Mercy,” a song written while traveling in Australia on a previous tour. And there is community. Though a solo record, Hansard does not stand alone. His long-time touring band – Robert Bochnik, Michael Buckley, KT O’Connor, Ronan Dooney, Joseph Doyle, Curtis Fowlkes, Graham Hopkins, Paula Hughes, Una O’Kane, and Romy – are a force of their own, while special guest Peadar Ó Riada is called upon to give a moving performance of “Aisling Gheal.” Finally, there is the audience itself, so crucial to any concert experience. “Take a deep breath,” Hansard coaxes during an incandescent cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” asking those attending to step outside of themselves, to raise their voices and meet him in a single long-held note of wild abandon. “Take a deep breath, and we’ll throw it out as far as it goes – what d’you think?” After a year of collective breath-holding, the answering roar is for the listener a moment of profound release.
“I know a recording of a concert is a pale substitute for the real thing,” says Hansard. “But we’re all living on morsels right now.” In these captured moments of connection and transcendence,Live at the Sydney Opera Houseallows for both the consolation of memory and the promise of a longed-for future – the promise of a coming, much anticipated feast.
All profits from the sale of this album go to the Inner City Helping the Homeless charity in Dublin.