When Glen Hansard entered the spotlight with the success of Once, it sent listeners scurrying to learn about his background. Many discovered his remarkable work in The Frames, who formed in Dublin way back in 1990. Their sound is quite different from the softer approach with The Swell Season, but it shares the passion. The difference comes with the intensity, which leaps off the stage and can energize the audience. We’re joining this band on a journey that blasts through the emotional turmoil of everyday life. Hansard puts his heart out there every night, and his mates are right there with him. These five guys know each other well and form a cohesive unit that does more than just support their charismatic front man. Their collaboration is chronicled in Conor Masterson’s elegant documentary In the Deep Shade. We join The Frames during their 20th anniversary tour and get a sense of what makes them tick. Shot in black and white, this film feels more like an art piece than your typical behind-the-scenes movie. Masterson rarely takes the standard approach and creates something that’s more than fan service. Their dedicated supporters should love this unique project, and it should inspire plenty of new followers.
Hitting the road isn’t easy for even the most genuine bands, and this makes the longevity of The Frames even more impressive. Their popularity has grown along with Hansard’s, but they still aren’t a household name. Watching this film, their dedication to each other and the music is clear and shows why they’ve lasted this long. The working-class approach and blistering performances show why their fan base is so ardent. An epic song like “Santa Maria” takes you on a slow journey and pays it off with a ferocious finish. “Pavement Tune” screams to the world that “I want my life to make more sense to me!”, and the rhythms match that intensity. Is this passion believable or just an act? Nothing in this movie disputes the idea that these are normal guys who love music. You need a good-size ego to put yourself out there on stage, but the arrogance is missing. Everyone describes Hansard as the general, and it’s clear who’s in charge. It takes the right type of guy who wants to join him and make the songs tick. Although The Frames have had different members over the years, these guys have a considerable history. They’re able to riff off the other on stage and adjust on the fly. Rob Bochnik tells a great story about Hansard switching to the song “Monument” at the last minute during a show. He’d never played the song and had to adjust to the front man’s choice without making an error.
This 2010 tour came after the surprise achievements for Once and The Swell Season. Hansard’s relationship with Marketa Irglova had ended, and the weariness shows on his face. He looks much older and has struggled to stay focused. One of the most intriguing parts of this movie addresses his experiences with Irglova. Their music gave him a renewed sense of purpose when The Frames were becoming less inspiring. He speaks candidly about growing disillusioned with the band and shifting gears towards a different musical style. What’s surprising is not hearing any gripes from the other members about this change. They recognize its importance for Hansard after years of screaming his lungs out with The Frames. Their understanding offers a perfect example of why this band remains in place. They’ll tour with him for solo shows and under a different moniker and still enjoy it. This film includes many tunes from early Frames albums like Dance the Devil and Fitzcarraldo, and that represents some of their strongest work. It may surprise viewers who know Hansard from his recent songs to catch such an impressive array of material. Songs like “The Stars are Underground” and “Revelate” still feel relevant today and translate well to the stage.
In the Deep Shade is an excellent counterpoint to 2011’s The Swell Season documentary, a more difficult look at life on the road. The Frames’ anniversary tour doesn’t feel like the last hurrah of a band for their fans. Instead, they seem invigorated by playing the rock tunes again. The movie closes with extended performances of two of their best songs, “People Get Ready” and “Star Star”. The former shows another positive of The Frames; their tracks are perfect sing-alongs for an excited audience. Few acts can inspire this type of enjoyment on nearly every tune. “Star Star” incorporates “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka, and it works better than you would expect. Colm MacConConiomere adds so much with his violin playing, and Graham Hopkins' steady presence delivers on drums. These performances work so well in black and white, and Masterson gives us interesting vantage points that aren’t possible at a normal concert. This different approach brings freshness to each performance and helps to create a wonderful film.