The Swell Season at the Pabst Theater
The Once duo maintains its musical mojo after its romance fades
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If you thought the unscripted chemistry that blasted The Swell Season to fame in 2007’s Once might have disintegrated after the real life break-up of Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech songwriter Marketa Irglova, it’s time to quit worrying. The duo had no trouble exploring the shimmering highs and fiery lows of its relationship with plenty of conviction on Sunday at the Pabst Theater.
After rushing the stage to massive applause, Hansard and Irglova settled down beside each other in front of two short mic-stands, after which Irglova triggered the cheesy Casio-rhythm of set-opener “Fallen From The Sky” from a tiny thrift-store keyboard. Hansard filled the room with his full voice as he strummed at his acoustic guitar and howled, “You must have fallen from the sky / You must have come here on the wrong way!” However, the duo quickly broke its quirky spell when Irglova jumped behind a piano for the hauntingly sparse “The Moon.” Quivering vocal harmonies rose and fell as Irglova’s slow and soaring vibrato spun in and out of Hansard’s gritty croons.
After “The Moon,” Hansard’s other band The Frames took the stage behind the two songwriters, one by one. “In Ireland we have a saying, it’s ‘stay between the ditches’,” Hansard explained between songs. “Basically it just means don’t get pulled into anyone’s bullshit—especially not mine. This next song is called ‘This Low’ and it’s about that.” Hansard’s stage banter was loaded with amusing anecdotes, in particular, the story that inspired and prefaced The Frames-penned “Lay Me Down.”
“So, I had been dating this Goth girl for two years and I wanted to buy her a meaningful gift.” Hansard said.” “We were about 16 and when I think I think of it now, the gift I bought may have been a little intense.” Hansard went on to reveal that he had bought his teenage girlfriend a burial plot for 500 Euros because he “wanted to be buried with her someday.”
“Well, she was a Goth and I thought she’d appreciate it,” Hansard joked.
The setlist grabbed evenly from the duo’s latest album Strict Joy, the Once soundtrack and 2006’s self-titled album. Hansard also used the opportunity to pull out a couple of Frames tunes. “Before Marketa came along, I played with these guys for long time.” Hansard explained. “We played for a lot of people, but not this many.”
The performance hit a powerful peak when Hansard delivered a solo rendition of “Leave.” Hansard shook the audience with his passionate howling, bashing the strings of his out-of-tune guitar. “You’ve said what you have to, now leave,” screamed a red-faced Hansard, while the audience looked on in bewilderment.
The band earned itself a standing ovation with proper set-closer “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” Predictably, Hansard and Irglova seized the stage for a rendition of “Falling Slowly,” which Hansard actually stopped abruptly in the middle of to dedicate it to a recently engaged couple in the audience. “I promised them I would do this, but I had to run downstairs to check my e-mail before the encore because I couldn’t remember the guy’s name,” Hansard explained. Finally, Irglova signaled for show-opener Mark Dignam (a childhood friend of Hansard’s) to come to the stage for a fired-up rendition of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Instead of using the P.A. the band just stood at the front of the stage and wailed out the song with all acoustic instruments until they each walked offstage one by one, still playing.