Swell Season live review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard of The Swell Season.

The Swell Season

The Swell Season at the Hollywood Bowl, July 18th, 2010

Jul 19, 2010 Web Exclusive Photography by Michele Yamamoto Bookmark and Share


The Swell Season rode into Los Angeles on the tail end of the city's first heat wave of the summer, which made outdoor conditions perfect for its headlining concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night. L.A. has been good to the songwriting duo of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who won an Academy Award here two years ago for "Falling Slowly," one of the songs they composed for Once, the 2007 indie film in which they also starred. During the show, Czech native Irglová recounted about how, prior to their Oscar success, an astrologer told her that she should warm up to Los Angeles, for it would play an important part in her future. And prior to performing "Falling Slowly," Hansard again acknowledged how special that Oscar experience was for them, giving a shout out to fellow Irishman Colin Farrell, who introduced their televised Oscar performance and was in attendance for Sunday's show.

Hansard, flanked by Irglová at the center mic, opened the show with a thunderous cover of Tim Buckley's "Buzzin' Fly." Between verses, Hansard tapped Irglová on the shoulder and pointed to the bright half-moon hovering over the trees behind the Bowl's distant bench seats. The venue, which seats about 17,000, was packed to the hilt, and Hansard and Irglová flashed bright smiles while soaking in the atmosphere.

It's been an unexpected and relatively fast climb for Hansard and Irglová. The Swell Season's 2006 eponymous debut album went largely unnoticed, and the duo was content to play venues like the old Largo on Fairfax at the time. Although Once, its soundtrack album (which included a selection of tracks from The Swell Season) and the subsequent Oscar win changed things dramatically for them, Hansard and Irglová have secured a significant fan base with their follow-up LP Strict Joy, which was released last fall. In the lead-up to the release, they performed small L.A. shows at the Masonic Lodge and did in-stores at Fingerprints in Long Beach and Amoeba Music in Hollywood. Hansard even busked "Say It to Me Now" for a small line of fans on Roycroft Ave. outside of Fingerprints. But the Bowl show was of an entirely different scale. A six-member touring band backed by a three-piece horn section, The Swell Season kicked into Strict Joy opener "Low Rising" for the second song, and by its conclusion, the stage shell of the Bowl was illuminated in a stunning glow of orange lights. "Low Rising," with its idyllic blend of soul and elegant melody, is an unmistakable descendant of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," a song the band performed reverently late during the set. Snippets of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" surfaced during "Low Rising," as did The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me" during "Back Broke," which Hansard dedicated to "two Los Angeles ghosts," Camilla Lopez and Arturo Bandini, characters from John Fante's Depression-era novel Ask the Dust.

For the encore, Hansard stepped to the front of the Bowl's pool section to perform "Say It to Me Now," noting how he had busked the song on Santa Monica's Third Street. He spoke about how he regards Los Angeles as a metaphorical city, one that has seen the band at its most wanting. Citing a previous tour with Damien Rice, Hansard recalled how he longed to headline the type of venues Rice was performing, and revealed that Rice congratulated him on headlining the Bowl. Hansard dedicated "Say It to Me Now," the song he sings solo-acoustic at the beginning of Once, to "all the people up in the back."

With the band returning to the stage, Hansard asked the crowd, "What would you like to hear?" After some deliberation, they broke into a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Drive All Night," a bold choice for its throaty "heart and soul" mantra, which Hansard managed ably. Saxophonist Jake Clemons, the nephew of the E Street Band's Clarence Clemons, accompanied The Swell Season on "Drive All Night." Hansard, with his penchant for storytelling and his charismatic rapport with both the audience and his fellow musicians, is one of the few performers today who can conjure both the grace and spirited communal atmosphere of a Springsteen show. In closing Sunday's Bowl show, The Swell Season segued from "Drive All Night" into "The Parting Glass," an Irish traditional that Hansard explained is sung at the end of a great night or at a wake.

If there was a drawback to The Swell Season's joyful performance, it was that it lasted less than 90 minutes and consisted of only 15 songs with encore. Swell Season shows typically are distinguished by crowd participation and Hansard's spoken interaction with the audience. While these elements were hardly absent on Sunday, they did seem curtailed. Strict Joy's "High Horses," an audience participation highlight from previous shows was not performed, nor was the standout new song that fans have referred to as "Moving On." If the Hollywood Bowl needed the show to be over by 10:30 p.m., it should have scheduled an earlier start time, feasible for a Sunday concert.   

Also, violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who adds Celtic flavor to the shows, has not performed with the band of late due to family responsibilities at home. Though The Swell Season is a songwriting collaboration between Hansard and Irglová, they are now backed by the members of Hansard's other band, The Frames. The Swell Season began as Hansard's modest side project to The Frames, who have long enjoyed popularity in Ireland but never broke big in the States. To share The Swell Season's wave of success with his Frames bandmates, Hansard invited them to play on Strict Joy and to accompany him and Irglová on tour. The future of both projects is up in the air for the time being. Hansard's romantic relationship with Irglová ended prior to the recording of Strict Joy, and The Frames haven't released an album since The Cost in 2006. Confusing things even more, "Falling Slowly" and "When Your Mind's Made Up," the two most noteworthy songs from Once, appeared on both The Swell Season and The Cost.

During "The Parting Glass," as the crowd gently repeated the closing refrain of "Good night and joy be with you all," Hansard imparted the message: "No anger, no regrets, no fear." These words of counsel will be helpful when Hansard ultimately faces the artistic decisions on his horizon. But Sunday night, he and Irglová basked in the moment, in the warmth of a beautiful Los Angeles night and a vast, adoring audience that the songwriters couldn't have imagined four years ago. "You've given us an incredible night," Hansard said before walking off stage. "Thank you so much."

www.theswellseason.com

www.hollywoodbowl.com

Swell Season set list

Buzzin' Fly

Low Rising

In These Arms

The Rain

Lies

If You Want Me

Leave

Back Broke

Into the Mystic

I Have Loved You Wrong

When Your Mind's Made Up

Falling Slowly

 

Say It to Me Now

Drive All Night

The Parting Glass

 




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Claudia
July 22nd 2010
5:02pm

I was there Sunday night and was blown away by their performance.  They are two truly talented musicians.  Glen’s voice is amazing and so powerful.  It was THE perfect Sunday night.

Adam
July 22nd 2010
8:21pm

I agree…..seeing them at the Bowl was fantastic. The perfect evening. Glen is one of the most remarkable musicians around. I also saw them at Amoeba Records and was right up against the stage. I’m so glad I was able to catch that because I’m sure I won’t get the chance again.