Becky and I saw the film “Once” early on in its limited theatrical run. In fact, we were fortunate enough to see it at beautiful The Heights Theater. I had heard some early buzz about the film and thought it would be a great date movie. I have to say, we were absolutely floored by the film. We talked about it for days. We bought the soundtrack and told everyone we knew that they had to see it (which I’m sure was quite annoying). This all culminated in Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova winning the Oscar for best original song for the film’s centerpiece number “Falling Slowly”. The story of the film just kept getting better and better and these two talented musicians were being thrust into the greater public eye.
Given the chance to see the duo perform live as The Swell Season, my wife and I had no choice but to take it. After a lovely dinner with some friends, we walked over to the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis. The show was sold out and the crowd demographics testified to how wide the groups popularity had spread. There were hipsters with ragged jeans and band shirts sitting next to socialite couples in sport coats and evening dresses. Though the crowd was diverse, the anticipation was shared by all.
The show was opened by an Irish folksinger named Damien Dempsey. He played a 30ish minute set of songs that all spoke about his country’s history and current struggles and triumphs. His passion was obvious and his banter gave us a window into his love for his roots.
Shortly after 9pm, Glen Hansard emerged from stage left carrying his now-signature battered guitar. Without plugging in, he began the night with a completely acoustic rendition of “Say It To Me Now”. The raw intensity of the song and Glen’s growling angst immediately set the tone for a night of great music.
Following the song, Glen plugged in and was joined on stage by Marketa who took the lead vocals on “All the Way Down” before setting up shop at the piano. Her presence on stage was understated, but always noticeable; Glen was the consummate showman. Throughout the set, Glen and Marketa would huddle and whisper to each other before going back to the mic and continuing. They interplay between their two personalities is what makes this group function so well. The stage presence and showmanship of Glen is perfectly balanced by the shy sweetness of Marketa.
The set lasted a whopping two and a half hours as the band played through songs from the film, from their debut album, from Glen’s other band The Frames and a few new songs and covers. Between songs, Glen engaged the audience with relaxed stories and analogies and whatever came to his mind. While some may find prolonged banter tiresome, I really enjoy it when the performer engages the audience and explains his or her songs and let’s the audience get to know them. Glen spoke about Ireland, Target, Freaks and Geeks, ghosts and his history of painful and pleasant relationships.
Before playing “Falling Slowly”, Glen offered this analogy. Have you ever been playing football in your backyard with your friends and you’ve painted a goal onto a wall of the garage to shoot for? Then imagine you kick the ball towards the goal and it goes over the garage, over the town, over the country and out to a place you’ve never even dreamed of! You and your friends would be pretty amazed because you didn’t know you could kick a ball that far! Then you start to think, I kind of just want my ball back. After playing the song, Glen backtracked a little and said maybe that analogy isn’t so true after all.
After an encore that included a solo by the band’s violinist (aided by a looping pedal), the show ended with The Swell Season and Damien Dempsey playing together on one of Damien’s songs, spotlighting the nationalism that is so strong between these people.
It is my sincere hope that Glen and Marketa continue their musical collaboration and don’t let their improbable, meteoric rise to fame dull their desire to keep writing passionate, honest songs. Judging by the new songs they played, there’s no sign of a creative rut yet! Their next album, whenever it may come about, will be one of the most anticipated releases in a long time.
Say It To Me Now
All the Way Down
When Your Mind’s Made Up
Loved You Wrong
What Happens When the Heart Just Stops
Lay Me Down
Go With Happiness
Fogtown (Michelle Shocked)
The Model (Kraftwerk)
If You Want Me
Blue Shoes (violin solo)
Star Star/Pure Imagination (Willy Wonka)/Hotel Lounge (Deus)
Finale with Damien Dempsey