Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Concert Review - The Swell Season

Caught The Swell Season last night at the Keller in Portland. This is Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the movie Once, augmented by three side musicians and guest appearances by the opening act and even a kid Hansard and Marketa met on the riverfront earlier in the day (yes – I will get there).

I saw the two last year before their Oscar win for best song, at the Crystal Ballroom – a much smaller venue than the Keller. I reviewed that concert here, and the movie Once here.

I was wondering if I would like the show last night better than the pre-Oscar big-time-fame show last year. My gut told me I’d prefer the last one better, but I gotta say, I really enjoyed last night. They were a bit more confident (especially Marketa) but the down-home feel was just as present.

By being a street performer in Ireland from age 13 through 18, Hansard honed his skills for getting an audience involved and is now translating that skill to these newfound BIG audiences.

For example, he’ll have the whole audience whistle a tune, or whisper a line over and over – well beyond the usual ‘clap alongs’ that most performers will try to get out of their audience. It made for some pretty cool moments. You wonder if they are on the bus thinking, “what can we get the audience to do for us tonight?’ Reminds me of Jim Morrison from The Doors where he would try and purposely get the audience angry in his own bizarre live ‘social experiments.’

This tour has been reviewed elsewhere on the Web with full set lists and the names of who exactly were onstage, so I am going to bypass that part. I will say, though, that the addition of Rónán Ó Snodaigh and Liam Ó Maonlaí (founder of Hothouse Flowers) as the openers was a smart idea. These two were Hansard’s “mentors” when he was a street musician and having them open, and join the rest of his band off and on throughout the night, was like having his teachers perform with him. And they were fantastic, adding a very traditional Irish bend to the whole thing, in both what songs they performed and what instruments they played.

Then there was Joseph the guest star. If the story is to be believed, Hansard and Irglova were strolling through Portland before the gig and ran into this kid who for some reason clicked with the two. Long story short, Hansard tells the tale and has the kid come all the way down from the nosebleed orchestra section to sing a song onstage. He does Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) by Looking Glass (one hit wonder from 1972) to the first standing ovation of the night.

The evening was full of these moments, as well as the great music I expected. We got all the Once music, a few solid new songs, and older songs by Hansard’s band The Frames, done in new ways with this lineup and format. There were even a couple of covers – one of the best was a version of Into the Mystic by Van Morrison that closed the set, before an encore that was about two songs too long. We also got the obligatory long, rambling, funny song intros by Hansard that in some cases were about as long as the songs he played after the intro!

The thing that is most cool about Glen Hansard is that after winning the Oscar and obtaining the level of success he now has, he could have gone in a glitzy direction. You know, a whiz-bang stage design; Some top name hired guns onstage; Expensive clothes, new equipment.

But what the guy decides to do is call up his old busking friends and bring them on the road. Not only as the openers, but to join him onstage to augment his band. He also gives everyone in his band a spotlight – from a violin solo spot to the bass player singing a verse to a song.

No, the only new trapping I noticed was a bigger, nicer bus outside. The guy seems to have maintained his humble nature and is taking advantage of the new success to spread it around instead of hoarding it. He and Irglova understand that sometimes the sum is much bigger than the added value of all the parts and having talented musicians around doesn’t detract attention from the main stars, but rather augments the spotlight and – really – just makes for a much better show overall.

28 comments:

hvyTK said...

Great review! I really like how yours provides the color commentary to a post like mine that detailed here's what they played in Oakland earlier in the tour.

Couldn't agree more that Glen's kept his feet firmly planted while riding this wave of fame. Here's hoping it lasts a long long time!

Lawrence said...

Your observation that they are and have remained humble is one of the truly great aspects of their combined intelligence and talents. Obviously aside from their considerable talents, it's their most endearing virtue.

gina said...

great review, and thanks for checking out the Anti blog!

nolan Winkler said...

Couldn't agree more with your review. I saw them in Phoenix on their opening night of the tour. There, they brought in the sax 'busker' who was playing out front of the theatre (he was wonderful!)....they put him 3rd row, center. Wow. Then Hansard dedicated the third song of the set to 'the busker who played for the queue.' They certainly seem like genuinely NICE and TALENTED people! I traveled 7 hours by car to get to their closest venue on the Swell Season Tour. Worth every penny. The audience left with smiles. By the way, I think they could never have too many encores!

megan said...

nice review. i love the random stories that glen tells even though they sometimes go on too long. he's a great performer.

Angela said...

I really enjoyed reading your review and hearing how the show was similar to and different from the one I saw here in Phoenix. Hansard really does have a wonderfully humble vibe, and it makes his performance so, so enjoyable.

sari said...

I liked your review as well. The show here in Phoenix was amazing, and I agree that the best thing about them is that they're really just nice people who are truly about the music.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'll be back again.

BoringFish said...

Thanks for stopping by.
Yup, I was at Keller as well, up on the balcony, near where Mr. Joseph was and your review is much better than my 3 liners.

battered ham said...

Awesome story about the busker! So did Glen have his tattered Takamine back for the Portland show or was it still being "fixed"? I was disappointed not to see it at the Phoenix show.

Isorski said...

Yes, he had the guitar and it sounded great despite having those giant holes in it!

Sizzle said...

I can't wait to see them tonight!

Anonymous said...

Ah, come on now, really. The Frames? 'Side musicians'? ;)

Sounds like a great gig though.

Isorski said...

Yep - I always rely on the blogosphere to straighten me out! "Tanks."

Bryan said...

I was first introduced to the Frames 4-5 years ago. Missed them in Phoenix a couple years back, and this was my first time seeing The Swell Season. They played an amazing set in Phoenix,AZ. My review is at: http://nugentfamily.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/theswellseason/ Still haven't seen the Frames live and I'm guessing if you add a drummer, rythym guitar, and some effects to the Swell Season minus the piano (Marketa's piano playing is amazing!), and there you have it, The Frames. Hope they tour soon. I guess they are playing in Denver for the bluegrass festival...wish list...Great review, my fav is Fitzcarraldo. Marketa is just all over that piano. Awesome!

Mark said...

thanks for the write-up. u might have gotten a little xtra in portland than we got in the bay area.

Kate said...

Thanks for stopping by the blog! I was wondering if they always pull someone off the streets...? If you go to Kink's website they interviewed Joseph.

Best,

Kate

Emily said...

Thanks for referring me to your review from my blog. It sounds like it was a great show. I wish I was able to go when they're in Minneapolis next week.

McJumpguez said...

Great review. I'm a huge fan of Glen and Marketa. I saw them at the Crystal and the Keller.

Do you happen to know what that song is called that they sang (at the Keller) about mixed tapes? It was reminiscent of those old 50s doo-wop songs. It would be greatly appreciated if I could get the title, then try to find the song.

Thanks!

the bantam menace said...

fantastic commentary... makes me sad I wasn't in portland for this show! and if the rambler is an irishman, he can talk all night as far as I'm concerned! ;) I was so moved when they won their oscar, and their grounded approach to their subsequent tour continues to inspire me to cheer long and loud for them. thanks for scouting out my meager synopsis and directing me here. I certainly hope to see them again... in whatever form their performances take!

Kelly said...

Thanks for stopping by my Louisville review of The Swell Season. I appreciated your commentary on their Portland stop! Thanks for the NPR link too.

Bill Cummings said...

You're right. I enjoyed how they shared the stage with their musicians (and even with their tour manager) at the Raleigh show. Their humility is refreshing. Thanks for sharing the review!

lar2001 said...

when i saw "Once" in the theatre there were only 4 of us there... all women.. about 1/4 the way through i guess one of the women had enough and left... boy, did she make a mistake.

since that time over a year ago... i have fallen in love with all their music. i saw them in DC before oscar time and it was just as cool as it was a few nights ago in philly.

i think he is wise enough never to believe in all the trappings that money and fame can buy.

SangLad said...

Thanks for the review. I guess I will have to wait until September to hear them in Boston. They are going to play in a pretty big place in Boston, which I am not too thrilled, but this is what I get for listening to them after they are known...

Mrs. Chappy said...

Thanks for the review! I hope it's ok, I posted a link to your blog on mine because I really liked your reviews, videos, etc. After attending the concert here in PA I definitely have The Swell Season fever!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by my site and commenting!
Your review is great - sounds like you had just about as wonderful a time as I did.
Seeing them was definitely full of emotion for me, certain moments just carried me away. I'm a fairly new fan of theirs - but they've won me over, fast. I rented the movie as soon as my friend had asked me if I wanted to go, and the songs just blew me away. I love their voices together and individually. I'm a new hardcore fan, lol.

I love that you've given a little background in your review, it really endeared me to them more to hear a little backstory.

Take care!
Rogue610

shawnpix said...

Thanks for the compliments on my photos and review. Just wanted to return the favor.

Sounds like a pretty entertaining and interesting show with Joseph. I'm guessing they probably did meet him and invite him to play, but I can't say for sure.

The Swell Season and The Frames have always been great live. I've been following them for about 5 years now. I always love getting the chance to photograph them.

Did you know Glen was also in a movie called the commitments with one of the women from the Corrs?

Holden said...

Isorski - Great review. Sounds like the show was as magical at the Louisville show. Thanks for visiting my Mog page.

runzen

Unibrowser said...

Hi
Does anyone happen to know the group that was playing over the PA prior to Doveman?