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The Swell Season @ Massey Hall, Saturday, September 20/08


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[blurb]The Swell Season Live At Massey Hall, Toronto, September 20/08

Review by David Ball


[color:gray](Limited addition "glow in the dark" venue specific concert poster - reverse night version below)

We’re all guilty of overselling bands from time to time. I’ve been proudly over-hyping the Irish film Once since last October. The film’s two stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, aka The Swell Season, created music that touched me so deeply that it had me blubbering like a baby in the not-as-dark-as-I-would-have-liked-it Fox Theatre. Once went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards and the DVD and soundtrack sales have been impressive since their subsequent '07 releases. The duo has been touring exhaustively since the film’s release, performing last November at the Danforth Music Hall, a show which topped my best concert list for 2007. Saturday’s sold-out Massey Hall gig surpassed my exceedingly high expectations and proved they've lived up to all the "over-hype". [/blurb]

Gangly red-haired Hansard strolled out on stage and sprung into the night's first song, an urgent acoustic cover of fellow countryman Van Morrison’s “Into the Mysticâ€. In perfect harmony with his lovely Czech partner Irglová, Hansard belted out the verses with command, sounding a hell of a lot like Van. The crowd sat in rapt attention until the end and cheered as loud as any I’ve heard in the Hall.

I think a great many Once worshippers in the venerable hall were astonished when the duo chose to get two of their biggest songs out of the way early - the gentle Oscar winning ballad “Falling Slowly†as song number two followed a little later by Once’s climatic song “When Your Mind's Made Upâ€. The latter featured Hansard’s main band, The Frames, who played it more akin to the rocking cut from The Frames’ 2007 album The Cost.

The highlight of the night offered the most unusual delivery. An unaccompanied Hansard unplugged his well-worn acoustic, walked away from his mic and went up to the front of the stage. After asking everyone if they could hear him, he launched into

, reminiscent of the first scene in Once, when the desperate busker Hansard sings this song on an empty Dublin street. But this time 2800 admirers were watching who gladly paid more than 10p.

The pair has obviously grown more confident as live performers. It’s tough taking your eyes off Hansard. He’s one of the more charismatic singer-songwriters I’ve ever seen on stage. He’s chatty, full of funny stories and praises. He’s certainly believable when he praises Massey Hall, especially considering his frequent proclamations of how incredible it was to be playing the same room as Neil Young. Not to discount Irglová. She has undeniably matured as a performer. Although Irglová didn’t take the lead very often, when she did, she nearly stole the show, in particular on her new song,

, her rich and somber voice hitting me to the soul. Irglová acts as a beguiling foil to Hansard, although in a complimentary role.

New songs were well received and not out of place, with Hansard prompting a few pretty fun crowd sing-a-longs, paying no heed to the fact that the Massey Hall faithful had a tough time catching on to their role during the lilting chorus for

; they did better on the emotional ballad
. I’m not sure if they will be Frames tunes – since the band sat in for most of the night – or on the next Swell Season album, but since Glen’s side project has surpassed his other band, anything is possible.

The choice to end first set with an old Frames favourite “Red Chord†was fitting given that Canadian cult songstress Mary Margaret O’Hara is mentioned in a verse - and that she was actually sitting in the front row.

The legendarily reserved Massey Hall audience gave the band a thunderous ovation prompting an excellent encore underscored by Irglova’s haunting signature song, "If You Want Me". Just as the band started to exit the stage, Irglová coaxed one last number out of Hansard, an affecting rendering of another Cost tune, "People Get Ready", encouraging yet another sing-a-long during the chorus: "We have all the time in the world, to get it right, to get it right/ We have all the love in the world to set alight, to set alight". It was a hopeful way to send us home, and it felt right.

***** (out of 5)


[color:gray](At night version)

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