If there is a famous Glen Hansard quote, than it’s probably his comment around the turn of the last decade that The Frames are a band destined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a sentiment that drew to mind last night as their three-hour ‘For The Birds’ show came to a close at Dublin’s Vicar Street. Here was a gig of two halves — from the sublime to the ridiculous.
A reading of a passionate — if earnest — essay on the 10-year-old album introduced the set and served to put the album in some sort of context. Not that it needed it. From the opening tender chimes of ‘In The Deep Shade’ to the wall of noise that closed ‘Mighty Sword’, this was a majestic, magical performance, forcefully reminding one of how great The Frames were and can be. There were new discoveries too as the underlying intensity of ‘Early Bird’ and ‘Headlong’ came to the fore.
One tends to overlook how strong a band Hansard and Co are when they’re operating at the peak of their powers. Perhaps we’ve even taken them for granted as the plaudits have been cast at those jetting in from the west — The Nationals, the Wilcos, etc. But The Frames circa For The Birds were as good as them all, and then some. It’s difficult to remember songs of self-doubt, from an Irish band, sounding so confident.
At 11pm, with ‘For The Birds’ finished, The Frames could have left it at that and sent us home reminiscing about 2001 and how important the band’s fourth album was to the alternative music community in Ireland. It gave the indie community here a certain confidence to look away from the UK or the US. But there was more to come. It was going to be a long night.
Roddy Doyle arrived first with a reading of his new short-story, ‘Blood’, which was fantastic as it elicited oohs and aahs from the audience. Predictably The Frames then returned for a best of the rest set drawn largely from ‘For The Birds’ predecessors, ‘Dance The Devil’ and ‘Fitzcaraldo’. Good as this was, it only served to emphasize further how far ‘For The Birds’ stands out in their canon. Damien Rice then ambled on stage in a rather odd matter as he delivered a rather dull new tune.
Next up was Bronagh Gallagher, who revisited some soul as the fireworks from the first half of the set began to fade into the distance. And then there was Liam. Mr O’Maonlai. The less said about him the better, but somewhere in between his shambolic, and frankly embarrassing, 20-minutes or so set, he seemed to forget he was a guest here rather than the main draw. Even the cries of “Fuck off Liam” couldn’t move him. I can’t for the life of me remember a worse live set.
Eventually, Hansard managed to draw back some control as the set closed with ‘Hey Day’ and a tribute to the song’s writer, Mic Christopher. Ten years dead this December, his anniversary will close a year of looking back for Hansard, who earlier this month took part in The Commitments 20-year reunion (were they ever together?) shows.
With the gig ending at around 12.40am, it’s suffice to say it was an odd night. Frames fans got their moneys worth with a quite brilliant execution of what they’d paid for — an airing of ‘For The Birds’ — and a few other great tunes thrown into the mix. It’s a pity then it will be remembered, in part, for the ramblings of O’Maonlai. However, I for one can’t wait to spin ‘For The Birds’ again.
Over at the Irish Times Jim Carroll has a good piece on last night’s brilliance and absurdities. Read it here.