(Photo courtesy of Riverfront Times.)
Midway through Friday night's Swell Season show, a vocal audience member named Mary Beth yelled from the upper balcony, "Hey, Glen?" At this point, Hansard was quietly strumming his guitar at the mic, preparing to introduce the next number, but he looked up automatically when he heard his name: "Huh?"
"It's my twenty-sixth birthday. Can I get a hug?!" yelled Mary Beth.
With typical good-natured charm, Hansard invited Mary Beth to the stage, where she was treated to a round of hugs from Glen, Marketa, and all the members of the Frames as the audience cheered her on. "Happy Birthday, Mary Beth," Hansard said to her as she exited stage left.
For me, this moment WAS the concert: audience participation, love, generosity, lack of pretension, spontaneity, and humor. The show began with the upbeat Once number "Fallen from the Sky," with Marketa and Glen huddled together on the floor of the stage around a synth; and continued with a mix of Once and Strict Joy songs, interspersed with Hansard's rambling intros.
(Cell phone pics)
Glen Hansard is obviously doing what he was meant to do. He's a natural performer and the type of guy with whom you'd want to down a pint. Whether he is strumming his guitar at breakneck speed during a Van Morrison cover or sharing stories with the crowd, his enjoyment is evident. He brought the crowd to pin-dropping silence with an unplugged rendition of "Say It to Me Now," giving form to unexpressed emotion with his raging vocals.
Irglova is Hansard's perfect counterpoint. Quiet and unassuming, she smiles gamely through stories and jokes she's probably heard numerous times throughout the tour but still manages to hold her own during solos, no doubt aided by her flute-like voice. Hansard describes Marketa as the person who never seeks greatness but has nevertheless been blessed by the little bird of fortune perching on her shoulder.
Singalongs filled the evening. Hansard gleefully instructed the crowd on the notes to sing, and it all came together magically on songs like "Paper Cup." At one point Hansard even asked the audience to whistle random notes, filling the auditorium with whimsical bird song and leading him to gush about "my little aviary."
(Cell phone pics)
We were treated to a violin solo from the Frames' oldest band member, who played to mark the passing of Ireland's last Clancy brother the night before. During the encore, Rachael Yamagata joined up with The Swell Season for a ballad soaked in soul, leaving everyone a bit stunned by her powerful smokers' vocals. And, of course, the encore also included a performance of "Falling Slowly" for all the couples in the crowd.
The show was a treat—not only for Mary Beth on her 26th birthday but also for the crowd and, one suspects, the band, too.