The Swell Season at Massey Hall, Toronto (Photos and Review)
06-Nov-2009 09:00 pm
Contributed by: pete
The creation of The Swell Season can be traced back to John Carney, ex-bassist for The Frames, who asked his long-time friend Glen Hansard (vocals, guitar) to collaborate on the story and music for a film. When the hired lead actor and associated financial support pulled out of the film, Carney convinced Hansard to play the lead role along-side of the then 17 year-old Markéta Irglová. The movie, Once, went on to be an international independent hit, and the song Falling Slowly from the soundtrack won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2007. It was out of this sequence of events that The Swell Season came to be.
As much as I thank John Carney for the indirect creation of The Swell Season, I also blame him for the lack of concerts by The Frames in Toronto over the past couple of years. I went to see The Frames for my first time when they performed in Toronto back in 2007 and was blown away by their performance. But since Once happened and The Swell Season emerged, the band hasn't played as The Frames in Toronto since. But whether Glen Hansard is performing with The Frames or with The Swell Season, he is still an amazing performer. Both projects benefit from the same songwriter and in some cases there is overlap in the songs, which means there are many obvious similarities.
One major similarity is the musicians that are on stage. When The Swell Season plays a concert, they are backed by a full band, and that band is made up of the members from The Frames. However, the mode in which they perform is definitely different. As a backing band, the other members of The Frames are much more subdued, yet still manage to pull off more powerful crescendos while maintaining appropriate composure required for the music.
Just like in the movie, the vocals of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are complementary and the interplay is sweet. Markéta is a very reserved performer, but managed to garner significant outbursts of applause during the songs when she would take the center stage. In contrast, Hansard's performance varied between gentle and unrestrained, both extremes of which were illustrated during a four song solo performance. On the unrestrained side, he performed a cover of Astral Weeks originally by Van Morrison, a rendition during which he poured out his soul and at the same time demonstrated the likely the cause of the worn hole in the front of his guitar with insanely impressive guitar playing. It was a performance that brought the audience to their feet in a standing ovation.
We were also treated to a solo by Colm MacConlomaire (violin) who played a three part composition of a traditional Irish song by setting up a few background tracks on a loop pedal and playing the main part himself. Impressive. The band closed the set with When Your Mind's Made Up, a song that also appears on The Frames 2007 album, The Cost (as does the song Falling Slowly; it's a great album, buy it). For the encore, Markéta emerged on stage and performed a solo number before Hansard joined her for a duet. As the band paused for what was sure to be the final number of the night, the audience started yelling out requests, until one man yelled "play whatever you want", which is exactly what they did, closing the night out with the song called Red Chord from the 1996 album Fitzcarraldo by The Frames.
Without doubt, this was one of the more subdued shows I've been to in a couple of years. Despite the incredible effort from Hansard to get my adrenaline flowing, there were points where the music soothed me into state of easy relaxation. It's a sensation I don't generally feel when I'm out at the shows, but it was entirely welcome. It allowed me to appreciate the beautiful acoustics of Massey Hall as well prepare for a great night of sleep. As much as I enjoy The Swell Season, in the end, this show just made me long to see another performance by The Frames even more.
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