It may seem a little odd to select a live album as the "one to own," but Ireland's The Frames are arguably the best live band in the world, as perfectly illustrated on 2002's Set List, performed in front of a rabid crowd in Dublin. The crowd's love for the band is immediately apparent from the rousing cheers at the opening guitar lick from "Revelate," a straight-ahead rocker from their '96 record Fitzcarraldo, featuring Colm Mac Con Iomaire's expressive violin matching the crunching guitars. If the vocalist sounds familiar, its probably because the band's singer/songwriter is none other than Glen Hansard, who gain worldwide fame from the film Once, taking home an Academy Award for the lilting ballad "Falling Slowly." As dynamic a performer as he is solo, or with Swell Season partner Marketa Irglova, he is most comfortable with his bandmates in tow, who flush out his soundscapes with immediacy and passion.
As "Revelate" whips the crowd into a frenzy, it is soon hushed by the gorgeous "Star Star**," a highlight from 1999's Dance the Devil, which soon seamlessly becomes "Pure Imagination" from children's film classic Willy Wonka. Glen and the band often surprise the crowd by lapsing into covers from time to time, only to transition back to their own remarkable tunes, as is demonstrated on third song "Lay Me Down," which rumbles into Johnny Cash staple "Ring of Fire." After the punkish "God Bless Mom," Hansard takes a moment to display some of his charisma and storytelling, reminiscing about an old neighborhood dog before transitioning into my favorite Frames song, the beautiful ballad "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops," in which Hansard asks, "So what happens when the heart just stops/Stops caring for anyone/The hollow in your chest dries up/And you stop believing." The songs starts at a crawl and builds to an impressive crescendo, Hansard's emotive voice soaring over the instrumentation, only to come down again to a whisper.
A harmonica greets the crowd in the sing-along shuffle "Rent Day Blues," followed by the riff-tastic "Pavement Tune," a song often played by Hansard solo or with The Swell Season. The pace stays frantic with "Stars Are Underground," before giving way to the familiar bass riff of "Santa Maria," an anthemic slowburner that laments, "In a bowing of heads and a passing of hands/And all we thought they'd understand/Is lost and they won't know/And what have we left/It's all that we've got/There is no 'X' to mark our spot/What's past is done and gone." The song builds layer by layer, until it reaches supersonic heights, only to hush itself beautifully. On its heels is "Perfect Opening Line," in which Hansard chides "And I'll just be curious to see now/How you're going to make it by yourself/When you're walking out ahead/Unaware of anything/And tomorrow as we're looking/Who the history books will blame/You'll be walking out ahead not caring anyway."
The next song, "Your Face," is, according to Hansard, a song about "Drinking cider in a field, after being chased by a bunch of thugs who wanted my leather jacket." It's actually more of a wistful romantic waltz, in which the protagonist fondly reminisces about a past love. Next up is penultimate track "Fitzcarraldo," an epic narrative journey with incredible lyrical imagery like "Even the good stars can fall from grace and falter/Like lapdogs that stride that mystery." The set comes to an end with "The Blood," a woozy sparse closer that the crowd delights in aiding the band vocally.
I can't recommend the music of The Frames enough--their studio albums are all exemplary, and I sincerely hope you take the time to seek them out (Dance the Devil, Fitzcarraldo, and Another Love Song can be a bit difficult to track down, but The Cost, Burn the Maps and For the Birds are all readily available). And if they come to your town, snatch up tickets and check out a live show you'll never forget.