Anyone who rewatched “Once” before the Swell Season returned to a Chicago stage Saturday night could feel life imitating art as the concert evoked the film and its heroes.
The bubbling atmosphere inside the Cadillac Palace Theater even went so far as to recall Marketa Irglova’s powerful lyrics at the 2008 Oscars as she and Glen Hansard accepted the surprise Oscar for Best Original Song, when she said triumphantly: “Fair play for those who dare to dream.”
That sentiment has followed the duo since 2007, when their little film That Could (created by John Carney, former bassist for Hansard band The Frames) swept through Sundance and international audiences, becoming a critical darling and still considered one of the best modern love stories. So much so that in 2012 it was adapted into an award-winning Broadway musical.
“Once” and the band it spawned, The Swell Season, are the epitome of ultimate underdogs, catapulting to cult classic status in a way as folksy as the folk music it spawned.
That remains certain in the act’s latest sold-out tour, just six short stops over eight days to celebrate the film’s 15th anniversary and the band’s return to the stage after 10 years. Seeing the adoration for the story, its soundtrack, and its stars continue after all this time shows that true love stories never die, and there are still plenty of people who want this one to work.
Hansard took a break from that sentiment during the show, thanking the audience for “convincing us that it’s still worth doing” before delivering sweeping versions of the soundtrack’s passionate gems.
The evening opened with the crescendo blast of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and continued with “All the Way Down” and of course the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly”, which inspired a man in the crowd to bring his girlfriend to the front of the aisles and propose to her as the house and the group cheered.
The feast of love continued throughout the night, taking on a more human perspective as the Swell Season paid tribute to Ukraine and the people of Europe. Frames guitarist and Chicago native Rob Bochnik had one of the brightest moments of the night when he delivered a traditional Polish/Ukrainian folk song “Hej, Sokoly,” about a soldier going to war, who has received the first of many standing ovations.
The eclectic ensemble has also established itself internationally with performances from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Iceland, France and Finland. It was also the first time Marja Tuhkanen (violin) and Bertrand Galen (cello) – the original Swell Season session musicians – could perform live with Hansard and Irglova after visa issues nearly ruined their luck. to do. It would have been a shame, as the string section added incredible sonic depth to the material and added even more appeal to the emotional gravity of the simple yet powerful setup that captivated fans.
Rounding out the cast was bassist Joe Doyle, also of the Frames and an Irishman like Hansard, who was of course to commentate on the St. Patrick’s Day festivities taking place outside the theater as the town hosted the holiday parade for the first time in two years.
Although lamenting how cartoonish the holidays can sometimes become, Hansard admitted how amazing it was to have an ‘International Ireland Day’, and the band celebrated as only they could, singing songs of the homeland. There was a catchy chant of the Irish prison folk song “The Auld Triangle” (even prompting a stagehand and the band’s sound engineer to participate), and the piece de resistance: a lyrical version of “Danny Boy” performed by the endearing Patsy Kearney, stepmother to Chicago-based band manager Howard Greynolds.
Chicago was a unique place to see this tour; the city that became a home for the band and, as Hansard noted, was the first place outside of Ireland that truly embraced the Frames.
A few weeks before Season Swell was hiding out in Fort Knox’s North Side rehearsal space to prepare for this tour, Hansard was in town again, opening for Eddie Vedder at the Auditorium Theater (he’s also now part of the band Vedder’s Earthlings). And while Hansard gave a tantalizing glimpse of the Swell Season material to come, it was so much more enigmatic that night with the harmonizing splendor of Irglova.
During the time the Swell season has been away, Irglova’s voice in particular has become even more refined and toned and has added even more to her interaction with consummate showman Hansard, who always gives it her all. It was evident when she stepped away from the piano and towards the mic for the haunting ‘If You Want Me’, and when she made her solo debut as the meditative ‘Quintessence’, proving why she was recently a strong contender in the Eurovision Song Contest. .
The evening’s set list also included songs from Hansard’s solo career as well as Swell Season’s latest album, 2009’s ‘Strict Joy’, raising many hopes there will be a second chance for kindred spirits ‘Once’. . And perhaps sensing the gravity of the moment, Hansard almost suggested it. “The Swell season had a life, and it ended,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean he can’t have another life.”
LIST OF SETTINGS
- “When Your Mind Is Made Up”
- “The moon”
- “If You Want Me”
- “That Down”
- “Low Rise”
- “My Roots Go Deep” (solo song by Marketa Irglova)
- “Return” (solo song by Glen Hansard)
- “Feel the Attraction”
- “What Are Going To Do” (solo song by Glen Hansard)
- “Into the Mystic” (Van Morrison cover)
- “Until the end”
- “Quintessence” (solo song by Marketa Irglova)
- “Hej, Sokoly” (Polish/Ukrainian folk song)
- “Slowly Falling”
- “Gold” (interference cover)
- “The Hill” (solo song by Marketa Irglova)
- “Leave A Light” (solo song by Glen Hansard)
- “Danny Boy” (Frederic Weatherly cover)
- “The Auld Triangle” (Brendan Behan cover)
- “Her Mercy” (solo song by Glen Hansard)