The Swell Season return to a sold-out State Theatre

Categories: Concert Review
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The last time Once film stars and musical duo the Swell Season played the State, it was very clear that this was Glen Hansard's band and that his female co-star, Marketa Irglova, was simply along for the ride. I was hoping that by the time they returned on the strength of their new album that the dynamic would have shifted a bit; Irglova has a charming personality that is stifled when she is sequestered to the side of the stage, seated at her grand piano. And things got off to a promising start: The pair took the stage alone, kneeling on the floor over a tiny keyboard for a duet version of "Fallen From the Sky," followed by an emotional "Lies." But before too long Hansard invited his four Frames bandmates to the stage and the focus shifted, as Hansard remained center stage and Irglova simply became another member of his backing band.

The show bounced back and forth between these two focal points, occasionally featuring both singers equally but most often centering on Hansard, and it was a shifting dynamic that the frontman himself noted toward the end of their regular set. Prior to the Swell Season, Hansard estimated that he had been with the Frames roughly 20 years, but they had never experienced the level of success that he has now seen with Irglova at his side, and it was clear that he is still struggling with the best way to incorporate the multiple aspects of his musical life. Much attention has also been paid to the fact that the pair used to be romantically involved and have since split, but if there is any tension between Hansard and Irglova for that reason it was impossible to detect it from the audience.

Strange chemistry aside, the Swell Season played an airtight show. It was the last night of their most recent tour, and the band performed flawlessly, alternating between Swell Season songs, songs from the Once soundtrack, and older Frames material, and even throwing in a cover of Low's "Two-Step" as a tribute to Minnesota. Unlike the last show I had seen, Irglova moved to the center of the stage during the songs where she sang lead, and gave an especially intoxicating performance of "If You Want Me" over the beat of a computerized drum part.

Hansard became more endearing when left to his own devices, and the portion of the concert where he played solo was a definite highlight. At the beginning of his solo segment, he told a lengthy story about meeting a woman in an elevator in Chicago whose son had been in one of the towers on 9/11, and it provided an especially poignant introduction to the song "Say it To Me Now," which he half-sang, half-screamed unamplified at the very edge of the stage, one of the most chilling moments of the show.

All told, the band played for over two hours, and even as they were entering their second encore it seemed like they didn't want to stop. The sold-out audience was more energetic than one would expect from a folk-rock show, leaping out of their seats more than once to give the band a standing ovation and remaining standing throughout the whole encore. At one point, Hansard joked that he used to come to Minneapolis to play the "400 Club" for crowds of 18 people, and it was obvious that he continues to be surprised by the massive success of this new project -- but judging by the precise and sometimes breathtaking way that the band executed their set, their success is well deserved.

Set list:

Fallen From the Sky (duet)
Lies (duet)
Low Rising
Feeling the Pull
In These Arms
The Moon
If You Want Me (sung by Irglova)
Fantasy Man (sung by Irglova)
Say It to Me Now (Hansard solo)
Leave (Hansard solo)
What Happens When the Heart Stops? (Hansard solo)
Astral Weeks (Van Morrison cover, Hansard solo)
The Court of Newton (violin solo by Colm Mac Con Iomaire)
Alone Apart (sung by Irglova)
Two-Step (Low cover)
When Your Mind's Made Up

Encore:
Falling Slowly (duet)
High Hope
All This Means Nothing Without You (sung by opener Rachael Yamagata)
High Horses

Second encore:
Red Chord

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