The Swell Season


Most artists would save their best-known song — an Oscar-winning song, yet — for the end of a show or an encore. But not the Swell Season's Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Opening Saturday's show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles with an inviting cover of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," the duo followed with "Falling Slowly," the Academy Award-winning best original song from last year's "Once," in which the pair co-starred. And the audience was delighted.

As they were joined by musicians including members of Hansard's band the Frames, there was much to come during a richly giving performance that stretched for more than two hours, ranging from additional cover songs and new material to guest appearances.

Centered on the strums of Hansard's battered old acoustic guitar and Irglova's lullaby-like, lyrical piano, with embellishments of electric guitar, violin, bass and drums, the music was aching and elegant, heartfelt and soulful. Most of all, it tapped into the essence of our fragile relationships with one another and the world.

In concert, Irishman Hansard is the focal point, his gift of glib gab and wry humor between numbers part of what makes him so engaging, along with his raw-nerve-exposed taunt vocals. A solo segment found him stepping away from the microphone to sing the pleading "Say It to Me Now" "unplugged," and he furiously based away at his guitar strings for a soul-purging take on Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks."

Czech songstress Irglova offered gentle charm when she moved from her piano to the center-stage spotlight for lead vocals, and she played some acoustic guitar.

The set ranged from the jagged self-examination of "The Moon," about losing one's way in life, to the soaring waltz of resignation in "When Your Mind's Made Up" to the ringing pop of the new track "Maybe I Was Born to Hold You in These Arms."

Among the night's surprises were "Once" writer-director and former Frames member John Carney sitting in on bass for the film's title song, Disney's Richard Sherman of the Sherman Brothers leading the group in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins" and Sam Beam of opener Iron & Wine joining for Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend."

The rising success of the Swell Season is heartening, the band's organic, crafted music defying the conventions of calculated pop marketing. (partialdiff)