On paper, it should have been a fantastic show. Three stellar acts who go well together. Iron and Wine (Sam Beam) started the night off with only an acoustic guitar and his beard, as the sun was slowly fading behind the hills. The first three letters of the Hollywood sign poked just over the roof of the Bowl and the Cross at Cahuenga was still just a silhouette in the distance.
As people were settling into their seats, starting on their second glasses of wine and attempting to connect to LTE just long enough to post an Instagram photo, Iron and Wine massaged the some-15,000 folk-heads into a contemplative space with his soothing voice and introspective lyrics. Beam traded off between his setlist and requests stating “I’ll do one for you and one for me.”
His set felt disjointed, though. He played an intimate, listening-room show in a huge amphitheater. It didn’t work. You have to play to the venue. When there are so many different energies, it’s hard to captivate the entire place with simple acoustic songs and playful conversations with the first 4 rows of seated diners in the “restaurant,” as he called it. I tried to get into his set, but the relentless conversations of the clearly disinterested patrons surrounding me made that completely impossible.
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One of the hottest indie rock acts of the last couple years (since signing with Sub Pop in 2010), The Head and The Heart, was second up. It took them a few songs to settle in. Pre-show vocal warm ups would have suited them. The three singers, Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell and Charity Rose Thielen’s harmonies didn’t quite lock in until the 4th or 5th song. Their lighting designer did a fantastic job at synching up perfectly with every tambourine hit and vocal inflection. When the sun completely set, the light show brought a much needed lift to the evening.
Because of the nature of The Bowl, most people stayed seated. Dirty stares and annoyed shouts were shot at anyone who broke the status quo and decided to get up and dance – obstructing the view of those behind them. So a dance party started to form in between sections, just in front of the walkway (Gasp! What tis this you say? Dancing and singing at a rock concert?! Blasphemous!). This party brought the energy of the cheap seats way up. I was tempted to go join! But alas, The Bowl ushers broke up the dance party and forced everyone back to their seats where the stares of their seated neighbors could be felt burning a hole through their hipster hair.
Right when it felt like their set should be finished, Russell excitedly announced that they had more time than they thought. Four more songs! Not sure where he got this indication, but whoever gave it to him sure felt the full wrath of team Glen post concert. More on this later.
They powered through their final four songs and lifted the energy to a nice buzz in anticipation of Glen Hansard. The stage rotated 180 degrees to replace The Head and The Heart’s setup with Glen Hansard’s. Pretty rad.
On previous tours (in smaller venues), Hansard opened with “Say It To Me Now” completely unplugged and off mic (ala the opening of Once). This show, he instead opened with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” furiously strumming his iconic, beat up Takamine – the way only Glen Hansard can.
The band trounced on stage and bellowed into “Philander.” They mashed-up “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” with a gritty “Respect.” Hansard roared, growled and squeaked with such conviction it would make Aretha proud.
A full 12 piece band, complete with a kickass horn section, a string trio and an electric fiddler, enabled Hansard to set his guitar down and shake his Irish hips on Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It” – something the Once (or stuffy Bowl) crowd absolutely didn’t expect.
However, right after the song finished, there was a bit of awkward fiddling around on stage. A couple band members attempted a reprise of “Baby Don’t You Do It.” And then, dumbfounded and caught seemingly completely off guard, Hansard said into the mic “there’s a fucking clock on the floor that says ‘you’re finished.’ Excuse me, I’m Irish.”
He played a quick, sweet waltz about half truths and innocent lust called “McCormick’s Wall.” He got the crowd to join him singing the melancholy refrain with an encouraging “When you’re singing from the heart, there are no wrong notes.”
They had only played an hour. For a headliner (one who typically puts on three-hour shows with multiple encores) this was a tease. He apologized and said that he’ll be back to play a proper, three-hour concert.
The crowd was in disbelief. Booing ensued. Tweets shortly followed. Noticeably frustrated and rattled, Hansard started his traditional closer, the old Irish standard, “The Auld Triangle.” He brought out Sam Beam (Iron and Wine), The Head and The Heart singers, his guitar tech, Simon, and the actor Chris O’Dowd to each sing a verse of the song. It was a bittersweet closer. What most definitely was planned to be a celebration of a beautiful evening, came off as a forced ending to an odd night.
So Upset at the @HollywoodBowl for cutting @Glen_Hansard short! How dare you??!!!!
— Agatha Altarovici (@gingerhell) August 11, 2014
@HollywoodBowl – who planned set times? Poorly done!
— Justin Riner (@Townofspectre) August 11, 2014
@HollywoodBowl what happened tonight? @Glen_Hansard's set was too short and he didn't seem to be aware of the curfew! #bummed #needmoreglen
— Grace Ko (@GraceKeaux) August 11, 2014
Hollywood Bowl, you're mad for not letting Glen Hansard and crew play on. It was a marvelous night for a moon dance, even.
— Lori Snyder (@lorchevsky) August 11, 2014
The Hollywood Bowl notoriously has a strict curfew. But somehow the curfew was miscommunicated to the bands, tour manager and promoter of the show. You don’t give the second opener at The Bowl a longer set length than the headliner.
Lights came on and people stood up blue-balled. Glen Hansard had only played one Swell Season song (an epic “When Your Minds Made Up”) and left off many fan favorites from Rhythm and Response, Strict Joy and the Once soundtrack. And no encore.
Worth mentioning, though, the sound was pristine throughout all three acts. Props to the FOH sound engineer.
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On our way out I stopped by the merch table and peeked at the vinyl. All three bands had them and I pulled out my card to spring for Glen’s. “We’re cash only” the burly man wearing a System of a Down T barked at me. Seriously? Cash only?! It’s 2014! Baby bands take credit at their living room concerts.
This was, by far, the dumbest move of the night. Dear team-Glen, Square is free. It plugs into anyone’s iPhone, Droid or iPad. They take only 2.75%. Far less than you lost not accepting credit. With the system they have in place, I fear for their tour manager and business manager. I didn’t see a laptop, inventory app on an iPad or even a tally sheet. My assumption is that at the end of each night, Mr. System of a Down hands the tour manager a wad of cash and says “Here you go! That should be all of it. Probably. Oh wait, found another twenty!” Fellas, AtVenu manages this shit for you. Get some merch managers who are friendly. More than two (for a crowd of 15,000+). And equip them with a few iPhones and Square swipers.
I was stunned. How could three huge acts playing The Hollywood Bowl leave so much money on the table?
I walked away empty handed. If you can’t make the sale after the show, at the venue, the sale will not be made. Remember that.
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Photo is by @DanaTangerine from Instagram and used with permission
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake