[Thanks to Ross Thompson for sharing his review!]
Belfast Ulster Hall
December 22, 2005
by Ross Thompson
originally printed in AU
Just back from the Frames concert and, as predicted, it was superb. One might even say that there were moments of transcendence: not quite euphoria, but nudging it gently. As usual, the venue for the band’s annual jaunt north was the Ulster Hall, which has a nice haunted ballroom feel that was a perfect setting for the music. Duke Special, an act that just gets better and better, are up first, and do a fine job of filling the difficult “We’re the support band, please listen to us” slot. Living up to the second half of their moniker, Duke Special are a broken toyshop of sounds. The combination of log-fire-vinyl crackles, ragtime piano melodies and introspective lyrics produce something chilling but rather wonderful: a lake in winter perhaps, where shimmering fish are clearly visible beneath the frozen surface of the water.
Duke Special set the mood perfectly for the main act. Three days before Christmas and it is freezing cold outside. Somehow, that wintry chill has crept in through the doors with the fans. I look at the stage and notice that huge, black treefingers were projected onto an ice-pop-blue wall. The atmosphere feels good in the way that the cold air does on the back of your throat on December mornings. Before I have time to think too much on that, the lights are dimmed and the band walk onstage. They immediately capture the audience’s attention. The first thing you notice is just how many good songs The Frames have in their back catalogue. Like a magician pulling an unending stream of brightly-coloured flags out of a top hat, frontman Glen Hansard introduces tune after tune from a pretty amazing repertoire. A cavalcade of details catch you off-guard: the mock histrionics of ‘Pavement Tune’, the apocalyptic build-up of new song ‘People All Get Ready’, and the way in which the chaotic squall of ‘Early Bird’ gives way to the lovely, subdued ‘Friends and Foe’.
The one complaint about tonight’s set is that it passes too soon. Before I know it, an hour and forty minutes of chimes, major chords and white noise has breezed past as quickly as the fierce wind encircling the building. There is a moment towards the end of the gig when everyone in the crowd throws their hands in the air, and the strobe lights cast shadows against the walls that mingle with the outlines of trees behind the stage. As the band say goodnight and exit the stage, I exit the Ulster Hall, and take that image with me. It keeps me warm as I walk between the butterscotch streetlights that mark my path back towards my car.