A couple years ago, Glen Hansard remarked last night, he and Markéta Irglová (a.k.a. the Swell Season) had been thrilled to play to a packed 150-person club crowd at Pianos in downtown NYC. Now, countless word-of-mouth raves and one Oscar win later, they were back in New York for another sold-out show — this one in Midtown’s cavernous Radio City Music Hall. “This whole year has been unfathomable!” the Irish troubadour (pictured, right, with Irglová, at another recent performance) crowed from the stage. “This is surreal. And lovely.”
The members of Hansard’s other band, the Frames, were on hand at Radio City to add some heft to his and Irglová’s duets. Still, Hansard started the night by walking by himself past the mic to the edge of the stage, where he sang “Say It to Me Now,” unamplified and accompanied only by that familiar beat-up acoustic guitar. The people sitting in the top balcony probably couldn’t hear him, but everyone jumped to their feet anyway. And when Irglová and the full band joined him for the next number, “Lies,” somehow the performance didn’t feel any less direct or intimate than that solo moment. Hansard proceeded to sing us through the key Once tunes, tender ballads and searing cries both; the crowd nearly lost it, again, when he led into “Falling Slowly.” Irglová sang lead on a handful of songs, too, notably a crystal-clear “If You Want Me,” though not enough.
It was a delightfully over-stuffed night of singer-songwriter entertainment. In addition to all that, we got not one but two Van Morrison covers; a rollicking old Frames rocker (1995’s “Fitzcarraldo”); surprise collabs with openers Interference (“Gold”) and Irglová’s sister (a song from the original Wicker Man soundtrack); an evocative instrumental number from violinist Colm MacConlomaire; a few sweet new songs; and several more impromptu additions to the setlist, some solo, some with full band. (Hansard dedicated Once’s title track to “all the captains of The Deadliest Catch,” for reasons involving a shipwreck-heartbreak metaphor.) Every time the house lights went up, they took ‘em back down again for another encore. “This next song is our last, I guess, and we just had the f—in’ coolest night,” gushed Hansard before the Frames’ “Star Star” — which, of course, was followed by two more songs.
It became clear before long that Hansard and Irglová, but especially Hansard, just didn’t want the night to end. One of my concert-going companions thought he would have kept playing for another few hours if the venue hadn’t forced him off the stage around midnight — and who could blame him? It was a magical evening for all of us. So let’s hear it. Were any of you there last night? Or have you seen the Swell Season live at any point during their remarkable journey to the top?