Friday, May 16, 2008

The Swell Season with Rachel Grimes - Brown Theatre, Louisville, KY 05.12.08

First, getting TO the venue proved to be a bit problematic, as many of downtown Louisville's streets were closed due to a Barack Obama rally/visit, which attracted mobs of supporters (and a tiny handful of anti-abortion protesters, oddly). Nonetheless, we made it successfully to the parking garage and arrived with time to spare. Upon entering the charming and historic Brown Theatre (where we had recently seen Andrew Bird), we were greeted to throngs of fans, but a well-organized seating arrangement made it an easy and comfortable entrance.

Opening the show was local Louisville indie favorite Rachel Grimes, who used to play in the influential chamber-indie group Rachel's, and her reception was more than warm. She played maybe a half-hour, unaccompanied on piano. Her music, from her upcoming album 'Book Of Leaves', was classy, instrumental, and lovely, if unassuming. She was genuinely grateful to have the opportunity to open for her friends (she was asked to contribute to an older Frames album years ago, so her connection is valid).

After a fairly brief intermission, the crowd swelled with applause as Glen Hansard appeared to sing, with only an acoustic guitar (and bypassing the microphones). He belted out 'Say It To Me Now', and the audience was enraptured by the Irishman's intensity and charisma. Quite an opening. Shortly thereafter, the full band walked out, including fan favorite Marketa Irglova, who co-starred with Hansard in the critically-acclaimed film 'Once'. She was overtaken with screams and cheer, and her shy smile was characteristic of her quiet and low-key demeanor. Combined, the chemistry and intimacy of the band and audience made for an amazing and beautiful show.

The band touched upon several new songs, all of which seemed quite comparable to their work on the 'Once' soundtrack and their 'Swell Season' CD, and their forthcoming album is sure to be as wonderfully emotional and classy. Irglova, who I think has been a little wobbly and restrained in the past, seemed much more comfortable onstage, and her new songs were definitely stronger than her contributions to past works. The unexpected success of the film and music has undoubtably been a challenge for her, whereas Hansard has been performing for over 20 years, so he knows how to work with and capture an audience's attention. He was quite the character, telling scores of stories and generally hamming it up onstage, and engaging in some nicely-done feedback discussions with the crowd. Hansard is a natural entertainer and a really likeable guy, maintaining humility and self-deprecating humor, despite his fans being borderline worshipful.

The onstage interaction between the band (including some members of Hansard's longtime mates, The Frames), Irglova, and Hansard was comfortable and loose, and they seemed to really enjoy performing together. A nice touch was a solo song by the bassist (Joe Doyle?), as well as a solo piece by master fiddler Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Marketa performed solo, acoustically, as well, and she provided a lovely voice that's still maturing and developing into a gentle, wispy, ethereal counterpoint to Hansard's soulful and gritty but smooth voice and more outgoing personality. Combined the two are a glorious and ideal collision of sound and texture (and heartbreaking emotion). The duo performed a solo Pixies cover, and Glen handled Van Morrison's 'Astral Weeks' adeptly and with unbridled intensity, even gaining a standing ovation when his guitarwork became frenzied and his soul-searing shouts were hair-standing-on-end powerful. Wow. The diverse audience (teens to silverheads, with everything in-between) was enthralled, as were we. A gorgeous show, gorgeous music, and a wonderful venue. Perhaps one of the better shows I've ever seen, and that's in 20 years of concert-going!
The Swell Season site

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