The Swell Season concert review

The Swell Season

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I dialed my cheesiness detector onto “high” before this show. Don’t get me wrong -- I was as smitten with “Once” and its based-in-truth tale of lovelorn Dublin buskers as anyone. But between the Oscars and the best-selling soundtrack and the breathless ads for this show, there was the danger of a toxic level of swell-headedness. The antidote turned out to be Glen Hansard’s immeasurable Irish charm, matched by his heart and his talent and his band.

Hansard set the tone for the night the moment he strode onstage. Like the street musician he once was, Hansard commanded our attention with an intense, acoustic version of “Say It to Me Now,” from the movie’s soundtrack. When the hooting crowd didn’t get it right away, he quickly released a volley of good-natured “shhhhs.” Hansard is an old-fashioned Irish storyteller (it was a rare song that wasn’t preceded by a monolouge) and road dog with his full-time band the Frames. They’re big in County Down, but they hadn’t had much success here until “Once.” Three band members, including towering, smoldering violinist Colm Mac An Iomaire, came along for this tour. Hansard’s co-star in the film, Czech singer Marketa Irglova, is now, famously, his real-life girlfriend. Also, she’s about half his age. Putting that aside, the duo have an undeniable magic onstage, and with most of the Frames backing them up, they make a powerful musical force. Long famous in Ireland for their live shows, the band, including both singers, is absolutely the real deal. They know how to put on a show.

In Richmond, they played a shambling, free-form concert that made the sold-out club seem like a bunch of friends getting together in your living room to have a few pints and play guitar. Hansard told the crowd that Irglova was battling a chest cold, but she always appeared to be giving it her all. However, she did disappear backstage at several points, during which Hansard and the band seemed to play whatever came into their heads. That made for some fun jams, including the Frames’ rousing “God Bless Mom.” Other Frames selections included “Fitzcarraldo” and “What Happens When the Heart Just Stops.”

The set included, of course, the biggest hits from the movie as well as a few well-chosen covers such as the Pixies “Levitate Me,” a duet between the singers, and Van Morrison‘s “Into the Mystic.” Hansard introduced the breakaway hit “Falling Slowly” with a neat allegory concerning their unexpected success, a story about kicking a soccer ball around the backyard. All you want to do is kick it to the back fence, but it ends up sailing over the fence, over the river, out of the city and around the world.

“Ninety-nine percent of you thinks this is the greatest thing in the world,” he said. “The other one percent thinks ‘I want my ball back.’” There’s no getting this ball back, and anyone whose throat didn’t constrict a bit during the inevitable singalong has a stone for a heart. 

No cheese here, thanks.

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