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Monday, May 12, 2008

Last Night in Cleveland: The Swell Season

Posted By on Mon, May 12, 2008 at 9:15 AM

In last year’s hit indie film Once, stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová gradually work their way toward making beautiful music together. They eventually get there, in the form of “Falling Slowly,” which netted them an Academy Award. Performing live as the Swell Season, the pair is already at that magical point. Hansard (who fronts the terrific Irish band the Frames) and Irglová have been on the road for quite some time. So last night’s show at the Allen Theatre came off incredibly tight and loaded with charm and intimacy. Armed with only an acoustic guitar (the same one he wields throughout Once), Hansard launched into a blistering version of the Frames’ “Say It To Me Now” that set the tone for the rest of the concert ... For the next two hours, he and Irglová – along with various Frames on guitar, bass, drums, and violins -- worked through Swell Season songs, Frames tunes, and a few covers. They were often backed by the a full band, but they relied on Hansard’s guitar and their voices for the most revealing numbers. That was enough to captivate the packed and ecstatic audience. And it was the familiar songs from Once that generated the most response: “If You Want Me,” “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the title tune, and, of course, “Falling Slowly.” Hansard introduced nearly every song with a story or joke that hit all the right marks. Irglová’s attempts to do the same fell a bit flat. The concert may have been billed as a group show (or a duo show, or whatever you want to call the Swell Season), but it’s clearly Hansard’s project – just as the Frames are. But you can’t blame the guy for taking center stage – or even stripping the set of all spontaneity. He’s been at this for almost two decades, and he’s finally a star. Still, it’s telling that the night’s most visceral number was a searing cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” performed by Hansard alone with his battered acoustic guitar. The opening “Say It To Me Now,” which Hansard sang off-mic, had a similar primal pull, nodding to the singer-songwriter’s street-busking days. We can't help but wish that there were more moments like this, just to break up the overall swellness. --Michael Gallucci

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