I think I have a strange relationship with music; although I consider it one of the most important parts of my life, sometimes weeks will pass without me thinking of it as anything other than background noise. But then I will see a concert that completely changes that, that reawakens my love for music. That’s what happened to me last week when I saw The Swell Season.
The Swell Season is made up of Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, the two musicians from the film Once. Glen Hansard also happens to be the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, The Frames (the other members of that band are joining Marketa and Glen on their tour).
The lights went down, and Glen came out to play “Say It To Me Now,” a Frames song that is featured prominently – and perfectly – in Once. At some shows (including one I saw earlier the same week in California) Glen did this song without any amplification, but he plugged in and used the microphone in Seattle. Later, he said that he was coming down with a cold, but I honestly would not have known that if he hadn’t said anything. His voice is amazing and conveys so much raw emotion, that, sick or not, I’m surprised that he can do it night after night. But he does. Combined, I’ve seen The Frames and The Swell Season live six times, and I have never thought that they have given anything less than 100% of themselves.
The show was a nice mixture of Frames songs, Swell Season songs, and covers. I was especially thrilled to hear “Suffer in Silence,” a Frames song that I didn’t expect at all. This song, from Burn the Maps, is a great example of why I love this band, especially live. The song starts quietly, and then builds and builds until the end when Glen is almost screaming and the rest of the band is playing as if the world is ending. This is what music is supposed to be, I think: a cathartic experience. “Leave,” from The Swell Season and Once, is another example of this. If you listen to the lyrics of that song, they are really very simple, about the aftermath of a fight. But the way Glen delivers the lines just takes the song to a whole other level. I am convinced that very few other singers can do what he does. He has an ability to use his voice to fill in silent spaces in songs in ways that can make your heart want to burst.
I saw the Swell Season in November, also at the Moore Theatre. At the time, I considered that to be one of the best concerts I had ever seen. I certainly didn’t think anything could ever eclipse it, but this one did. Everything was absolutely perfect, and I loved the addition of the other Frames: Colm on violin, Joe on bass and Rob on guitar. The violin especially sounded great on the songs, and Colm played a lovely solo.
But the biggest difference between this concert and the one in November was, I think, Marketa. She seemed so much more confident onstage this time; her singing was louder and clearer and she took center stage more. In fact, I think that her new song she sang was one of the highlights of the show. It was beautiful; I wish I could remember the lyrics, but I was just trying to absorb the moment. Although I kept my eyes on her and Colm throughout the song, I did look at Glen a few times, who was sitting at the piano, watching Marketa and smiling. Later, she came out by herself and did a song from a movie called The Wicker Man. (Not the remake with Nicholas Cage, but the original). She has a wonderful voice, a great counter to Glen’s on the songs that they sing together.
Sometimes after a concert, you go home and that’s the end of it. Sometimes, you go home and think about it for a while. And sometimes, when you go home, you cannot get the band out of your head. That’s how I have been feeling this week. If you don’t know them, I highly recommend you check out both The Swell Season and The Frames.