When the lighting was just right at last week’s Swell Season concert inside the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre, you could see Glen Hansard’s shadow projected on the ornate wall just left of the stage. The shadow outlined a simple image: a man with his guitar strapped to him as if it were an extension of his body.
Of course, the real Hansard — in human form — also appeared on stage, and he was no less interesting. The Swell Season — a band consisting of Hansard, Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova and members of Hansard’s band The Frames — is most popular for its Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly.” It’s a fine song, but the band has much more to offer.
In many ways, the Swell Season has always been special to me, in part because the band’s music is earnest without being Hallmark friendly, and dynamic enough without being too pretentious — somewhere between U2 and Van Morrison.
I’ve seen the band in concert four times now, and while I thought I might get bored of seeing the band live, it hasn’t happened yet. This is in part because of Hansard. This man knows how to put on a show and seems to eat, sleep and breathe music. At Thursday’s show, he told the audience that his band The Frames is about to turn 20. Hansard is not yet 40. But this isn’t to say that all of the band members don’t contribute to the show and to the band’s unique spirit: Hansard fills the band’s live performances with stories of ghosts, lost lovers and tales of Ireland, while Irglova adds a quiet mystery to the set and The Frames add expert musicianship to complete the songs. At one point, fiddler/violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire played an Irish folk tune by himself, using only his violin and a looping machine.
Hansard ended the set with a cover of the Clancy Brothers’ “Parting Glass.” He dedicated the song to the last surviving Clancy brother, Liam, who Hansard said was not doing too well. “So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all,” Hansard and company sang. It was an eerie tribute: Liam Clancy passed away the next day.
Set List (in no particular order — this is from my memory, and I’m sure I omitted a few songs):
Fallen from the Sky
Say It to Me Now
When Your Mind’s Made Up
Feeling the Pull
In These Arms
Astral Weeks (Van Morrison cover)
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (Fred Rose/Willie Nelson cover)
Hey Day (Mic Christopher cover)
Parting Glass (Traditional/Clancy Brothers cover)