Nestled alongside red neon lit windows filled with woman blatently offering their wares, Bitterzoet (which means Bittersweet in Dutch) is a small club in Amsterdam offering intimate (but not that kind!) musical experiences for indie music lovers.
For the 350 people lucky enough to get a ticket to Glen Hansard’s sold out show on Saturday night, they were treated to a close-quarters exchange with Ireland’s most beloved musical gypsy.
Oliver Cole (another Dublin native) ably opened the proceedings and was well received despite having to fight the noise of those still entering and general bar chatter. At one point he produced a suitcase on stage filled with copies of his first album (We Albitri) and implored the crowd to lighten his touring load and buy a copy.
Just after 9pm, the beenie-clad Hansard stepped on stage and immediately launched into an acapella rendition of traditional Irish ditty ‘Spencer the Rover’. Minds were immediately focused and all noise and chatter in the room ceased, leaving only the intermittent sounds of the clinking of glasses by the bar staff – evidence surely of the esteem in which Hansard was held by his audience.
The Frames’ track ‘Plateau’ from their 1999 album Dance the Devil then officially opened proceedings with Hansard thereafter switching between his Guild Starfire and his excessively beat up Takamine to showcase acoustic versions of songs from his bands The Frames and The Swell Season and also some newer material which, it is hoped, will appear on his forthcoming solo album due for release in early 2012. He attracted giggles from the crowd early on as he joked that he found the Red Light location of the venue interesting, but that it had allowed him to spend a couple of enjoyable hours earlier that day in the company of a nice Eastern European woman called Svetlana – you can’t say the man doesn’t share with his audience!
All jokes aside, Hansard spoke emotionally at various times throughout the night of his personal connection with Amsterdam and the Netherlands and inferred that the ghosts of memories past seemed to be invading his consciousness that day – a reference it seemed to good friend and fellow Dublin busker Mic Christopher whose accidental death in 2001 in Groningen deeply affected Hansard and his cohorts.
Of particular note in the almost 90 minute main set were a raucous version of ‘Perfect Opening Line’ described as a song of envy and admiration, new song ‘It’s Coming’ (which Hansard advised he had been working on that very day) and the double-shot of ‘Underglass’ and ‘Suffer in Silence’ from The Frames’ 2004 album Burn the Maps.
The encore commenced with a collective ‘ahhhh’ for crowd favourite ‘Falling Slowly’, followed by the off-mic ‘Say It To Me Now’ which was delivered with enough gusto to break a string on the trusty Takamine and force some subsequent crowd participation via an acapella version of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Devil Town’ while the string was replaced.
During the encore Hansard commented that he had not been able to hear any of opener Oliver Cole’s set as he had been back stage ‘being nervous’, and he accordingly invited Cole back to the stage for an encore performance of his song ‘Don’t You Know’.
The evening came to an end all too soon with a duet by Hansard and Cole on the traditional Irish standard ‘The Auld Triangle’ and the mostly Dutch crowd expressed their appreciation sincerely by singing along loudly at the well-known chorus.
I admit I suffer from a fairly extensive objectivity problem when it comes to Glen Hansard but again on Saturday night I found myself marvelling at his ability to take me to places in my heart and soul with just two guitars, an amp and some red lights. Hartstikke Bedankt Glen!