Something magical occurred when Irish musician Glen Hansard and Czech vocalist and pianist Markéta Irglová stepped foot in front of a sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Jan. 19. There was no elaborate set or screens set up to show the folk duo close-up for those in the third mezzanine. Despite housing approximately 6,000 concert-goers, Radio City felt intimate and the duo known as The Swell Season purposely kept it that way. Hansard and Irglová are the Oscar-winning singers and song-writers of “Falling Slowly” from the 2007 Irish indie film “Once.”
Hansard and Irglová have dated (and since broken up), which made the songs they performed all the more effective and somber, yet slightly hopeful for the future. (One member of the audience brazenly said as much, yelling for the two to get back together following their sweeping performance of “Falling Slowly” during the encore.)
Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter opened for Hansard and Irglová. Ritter’s folk and country-tinged stylings proved to be quite the way to start the evening’s proceedings. Even though Ritter only appeared on stage for a half-hour, he more than made up for the limited time through his smooth vocal performance and quirky stage presence. Ritter was eternally grateful for the break to play a packed house and have his music heard for many prospective fans.
The Swell Season finally began their set after 9 p.m. and the two were well worth the wait. Despite the fact that the two are no longer dating, the songs and their performances still contained a slow-burn of passion and quiet restraint that lingered from the insides of their bodies and out from their lips. Hansard could have melted Radio City Music Hall down all by himself when he segued from The Swell Season’s “Low Rising” into Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” In addition to Gaye, The Swell Season covered songs from Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. During their cover of Springsteen’s “Drive All Night,” The Swell Season was joined by Jake Clemons, who played the only brass instrument of the night: the saxophone.
One of the more emotionally stirring moments of the evening occurred when Hansard told the audience about a woman named Lois he met in Chicago. Like many, Lois was unfamiliar with Hansard and The Swell Season. Hansard spoke a little bit about himself when Lois almost stopped him short. Her eyes began to well up as she mentioned that her son was Hansard’s age when he was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. She had a bad feeling that morning, but never had the opportunity to tell her son to not go into work. Hansard often thinks of Lois and her devastating predicament. Because of Lois, he encouraged the audience to not hold back anything to anyone and say what is on your mind because you don’t want to regret any missed chances.
Hansard and Irglová were joined on stage for the majority of the evening by the Frames, Hansard’s band before he met Irglová. The chemistry on stage between all of the musicians was on point and they shared a genuine respect for one another. Hansard and Irglová were humble and gracious; they did not seem like two people who had won Academy Awards or have been effected by success at all.
The Swell Season performed for well over two and a half hours and left the audience in a spell-bound trance that only true wizards of music could have the capabilities of doing.
Photo credit: ANTI- Records