It was Glen Hansard's show last night at the Pageant. Although he shared the stage with Markéta Irglová, the Swell Season's other co-founder - as well as his other band the Frames, opener Rachael Yamagata and the occasional overzealous audience member -- Hansard commanded the stage like a solo artist, albeit one with loads of humble, vulnerable charm.
The show was never confirmed as sold out, but a curling line packed the Halo Bar well before early entrance, locking out audience members hoping for pre-show drinks or warmth. After scuttling for seating, the crowd -- mostly couples and large groups skipping out on office holiday parties -- filled the floor. This respectful near-capacity crowd greeted opener Rachael Yamagata as she took to the piano.
Yamagata, perhaps best known for the appearance of her song "Be Be Your Love" on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack, played the woman scorned with bluesy pop songs, perfect for break-up scenes on dramatic TV series. Accompanied by a guitarist on subdued electric, she moved between piano and acoustic, airing her emotional baggage in a husky, hushed voice à la Fiona Apple and Liz Phair. Though the songs had lovely bones, and though she made little jokes about building a career on bad relationships, the tempo and relentless rainy-day mood were a bit of a downer.
The crowd was completely won over, however, before the Swell Season ever took the stage. And the applause was giddy and riotous when they did, Hansard and Irglová emerging first to sing "Fallen From the Sky" on their knees, sharing a single lowered microphone, creating the same spare, home-recorded effect as in Once.
Irglová, dressed like a Euro-trip folk singer, moved to the piano, and Hansard stood for the next song, "Lies," which built in its eerie and beautiful harmonies. The audience couldn't wait until the end of the song before applauding. Next, Hansard welcomed The Frames -- Colm Mac Con Iomaire on violin, Joe Doyle on bass, and Rob Bochnik on guitar -- and they launched into the talking-blues "Low Rising" and raucous, sounds-like-Dublin "Feeling the Pull," highlights from the recently-released second Swell Season album, Strict Joy.
Hansard's disarming patter between songs is a well-documented element of his appeal, and he introduced the next song as, "This is about someone beating you up with their intellect" - pause, referring to Irglová - "No, not her. We're buddies!" The song was Joy's "In These Arms": a simple, gorgeous song enhanced by Bochnik's wistful slide that miraculously avoids sentimentality, while still maintaining real feeling.
When Irglová took center stage to sing lead, I couldn't wait to hear her lovely voice chill the air of the room. Over the old-world violin and drum machine of "If You Want Me," her voice was remarkable - airy, controlled, sweet, pervasive - but by the end of "Fantasy Man," her presence seemed rather expressionless.
Hansard, however, was just the opposite, when left all alone on stage. Like the scarecrow with a brain and a Grizzly Adams-style, self-described "I hate women" beard, the ginger began a rambling story that started as an amusing anecdote of meeting an old woman in an elevator, and turned into an entreaty to tell the ones who matter how you feel. And then from the front of the stage without a microphone, Hansard belted "Say It To Me Now," sounding as lung-rippingly raw as if the song were being composed on the spot. It was a spine-tingling, this-is-why-I-love-live-music moment -- the acute awareness of a musician playing before and for an audience.
More highlights followed: Hansard shredding his distorted acoustic on a furious Van Morrison cover of "Astral Weeks," the two vocalists' intertwined purrs on "Once," Colm's solo violin tribute to Irish musician Liam Clancy, who died the night before, and a young woman who called out, "Hey, Glen?" and asked for a birthday hug, which was promptly answered by an invitation to the stage, where she was embraced by everyone in the band, who then began hugging each other. Ultimately, it was Hansard's combination of energy, sings-like-he's-crying emotion, and entertainer's knack for ingratiating himself to an audience that inspired the crowd's three riotous standing ovations. Of course, the Swell Season played on.
Setlist: 1. Fallen From the Sky 2. Lies 3. Low Rising 4. Feeling the Pull 5. In These Arms 6. The Rain 7. The Moon 8. If You Want Me 9. Fantasy Man 10. Say It To Me Now 11. Leave 12. Paper Cup 13. Astral Weeks (Van Morrison cover) 14. Colm solo on violin (Court of New Town) 15. Alone Apart 16. Once 17. When Your Mind's Made Up
Encore: 1. Falling Slowly 2. Rachael Yamagata onstage; song title? 3. High Hope 4. High Horses Second Encore: 1. Fitzcarraldo
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