New Frame: The Swell Season at the 9:30 Club

The Swell Season 2009

Tree People: Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard

They broke up.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, for whom life imitated art imitating life when they fell in love playing lovers in the kinda-sorta-semi-autobiographical sleeper romance Once a few years back, are no longer an item. But on the evidence of “Strict Joy,” their first album together since they picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song last year, they remain creatively simpatico.

At a sold-out 9:30 club last night, they proved the point while promoting a new frame through which to perceive their ongoing partnership: Specifically, The Frames, the Dublin rock band Hansard has fronted since 1990. The group accompanied Hansard and Irglova for the bulk of an 135-minute tour de force that covered Swell Season songs new and old, Frames numbers, and a few knockout covers: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (as made famous, but not written, by one Willie Nelson) and “Astral Weeks” (as written and made famous but by Hansard’s most obvious native antecedent, one Van Morrison). The latter formed the the thrilling climax of a four-song solo set from Hansard, who strummed his battered guitar with such machine-gun intensity that you could see splinters of wood flying off of it. Yep, it’s the same one he plays in the movie, the one that looks like he used it to fight off a hungry bear.

Hansard and Irglova’s voices pair beautifully on these interior songs, but they performed alone together on only a handful of songs, mostly the Once ones. New material like the ecstatic “Feeling the Pull” and “High Horses” sounded forceful but slightly more anonymous in their burnished full-band arrangements. For much of the evening, you’d have thought Irglova was the pianist and backing vocalist in The Frames, rather than one-half of The Swell Season. (Most of the “Once” tunes were credited to Hansard alone anyway, and some had previously appeared on Frames albums.) Irglova isn’t as relaxed in the spotlight as Hansard — yet — but the three songs on which the 21-year-old Czech sang lead, including the new pair “Fantasy Man” and “I Have Loved You Wrong” were haunting enough to make you crave more.

After “Falling Slowly,” their Oscar-winner, Hansard and Irglova could have sent everyone home happy. But Hansard called the Frames back for a jaw-dropping climactic sequence of an unnamed new song, the Frames deep cut “Red Chord,” and a singalong of the mournful Irish traditional, “The Parting Glass,” dedicated to ailing Liam Clancy. If this is their future, it’s clear they’re still in love with music.

A shorter version of this review appears today on
Post Rock.

Read my review of The Swell Season’s Lincoln Theatre concert two years here.

The Swell Season at the 9:30 Club, Monday, November 9, 2009

The Setlist

01 Fallen from the Sky
02 Lies

With The Frames

03 Low Rising (w/ Sexual Healing)
04 Feeling the Pull
05 Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain (Willie Nelson)
06 The Rain
07 The Moon
08 Old Man
09 If You Want Me (Marketa Irglova lead vocal)

Glen Hansard solo

10 Leave
11 Say It to Me Now
12 Back Broke
13 Astral Weeks (Van Morrison)

Colm MacConlomaire and Market Irglova

14 Eamonn’s Dream (?)

With The Frames

15 People Get Ready
16 The Verb
17 Fantasy Man (Marketa Irglova lead vocal)
18 I Have Loved You Wrong (Marketa Irglova lead vocal)

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

19 Once
20 When Your Mind’s Made Up

ENCORE

21 Falling Slowly

With The Frames

22 Unnamed new song
23 High Horses
24 Red Chord
25 The Parting Glass

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