The Frames Accept Your Love
Sydney, Australia They start off shy. Like maybe it's too easy for them and they need to make a deeper path into the night, because people here love them too much already. So it's a soft beginning as singer Glen Hansard hushes himself into things and laughs a little at his own dramatics, as if not to be too precious. All the while the loudest thing you can hear in the room is not his voice or his wildly noble band, but these other pools of sound spreading out over a heroes' welcome so rowdy it's as if the whole night is going to be a fight between noise and silence, pools and pools everywhere rippling with the sound of "shoooosh," "shooooooooooooosh," "shoooooooooooosh...."
Can love kill love? The audience here at the Metro Theater on November 16 is more than capable of it. They sing every word, cheer every gesture, swamp the band in worship. It feels wrong, a slobbering embrace, peculiarly drunken and Irish and sentimental, bucketed in something beyond the music, a need to laugh and sing so loud it's like some grotesque, out-of-touch, even violent weeping towards mindlessness. Caught inside it, I begin to hate the crowd, and yet I know the feeling, the whole Waltzing Matilda Ned Fucking Kelly fly-your-tattered-flag mood of it.
Introduced to The Frames by their Steve Albini-produced 2001 album, For the Birds, I'd expected a folky Tindersticks with momentary metallic surges out of the quiet, a bunch of gloomy recluses locked into tender atmospheres and odd storms. Instead this is like a Violent Femmes show. Worse still, a foreshadowing of what a Frames reunion tour might be like in 20 years' time if this audience manages to devour this great, great band and turn them into what's expected.
It's just then that The Frames decide to play a new song called "Keepsake." When they declare they still possess their music and something mysterious within it that remains purely their own. That in this one moment we might stop to watch and listen and go searching with them instead of swilling everything down and punching our fist in the air. That now, now it's time to think and feel in deeper ways.
This pause into the unknown, this "Let's hold on for a few minutes," signals the band really stepping up to the mark. Unlike me though, they don't lash out at the love before them, they accept it and take it on to other places. And show what an experience they really are. Songs burst their shapes into improvisations, citing in sudden rushes of energy the ecstasy of Van Morrison as Glen Hansard exclaims spiraling mantras of "your radio your radio your radio" or suddenly rips into Johnny's Cash's "Ring of Fire": part pop shamanism, part Irish cowboy rumble, plenty of reckless fun.
Hansard is the undeniable star of the occasion: loose and happy rather than tortured, a shenanigan artist with some quirky origami hand moves darting their way into a few songs, as well as a deep poetic presence that can't be denied. It's confronting to see how enamored he is of the love I was hating, the way he understands and appreciates the crowd without letting them idolatrize the music. That he is a rare, red-haired Irish bird: comic, ready to party, serious when it matters, hot with his own talent.
So it is that The Frames don't even come close to drowning in the love I saw threatening them they surf on it, transforming worship into communion, currents of depression into joy, everything moving them and us towards freedom in the music. You can hear Yeats and Synge in this lyrically romantic sound too, a likely lad dreaming straight out of Irish literature, as well as some unbelievably intense musical dynamics that put The Frames in the fine company of artists like the Dirty Three, Wild Oldham and The Necks among others.
It's like the story Hansard tells about driving by a graveyard just before Christmas and deciding to buy his love a plot. He took her there on Christmas Day to see his surprise and, he says, highly amused, she was not at all impressed! There's hardly a dry eye in the house from laughter by the time he finishes this story and launches in to what became his other gift, the song "Lay Me Down": "In the hollowed ground by your side." A song about sneaking back into a graveyard at night after a funeral to be with the one you loved and lost. 'Tis a strange prettiness he masters for us.
Note: The Frames' excellent live album, Set List, which was released in other parts of the world last year, will see release in the U.S. on February 24 on the Anti label. Mark Mordue [Friday, January 30, 2004]