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
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
21 Falling Slowly
With The Frames
22 Unnamed new song 23 High Horses 24 Red Chord 25 The Parting Glass