A while back, my friend Monster lent me a DVD. “You have to watch this. You’re gonna love it.”
Monster’s tastes and mine run in the same circles, so I trusted her and watched the movie.
A film like this only comes along once in a lifetime.
That movie was Once. The rest is history.
I had the opportunity to see The Swell Season the last time they were in town, and they were amazing. When I heard that they were back in town, I breathed a heavy sigh. You see, I’m an out-of-work writer, masquerading as an underpaid all-purpose girl at a wretched Korean property management company. I can’t afford luxuries like a mind-blowing live performance on a perfect autumn evening.
But thank God for Fingerprints. Located in beautiful Belmont Shore, Fingerprints is the indie record store to end all indie record stores. Championship Vinyl’s got nothin’ on them.
They occasionally have musicians come and play special acoustic sets for a small crowd. When Monster found out that The Swell Season was coming to Fingerprints, she wasted no time (or effort — she had to redial for two hours before she finally got through) in procuring entrance for both of us.
When I arrived at Fingerprints on Tuesday evening (thanks to my fat commute), the place was packed. I found Monster quickly and we waited for the show to begin. And then the owner came out to introduce the band, and the rest of the world just fell away.
Glen Hansard, formerly of The Frames, plays with a vigor that you’d expect from someone as energetic as he is. The moment he takes the stage, you can feel his passion. There is no mellow with this guy. Even his slower songs are charged with electric emotion. He doesn’t sing sad songs — he sings heart-wrenchingly mournful ones. Whatever he does has movement to it.
And that’s not even counting his physical movement. Hansard is so fun to watch — he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it right on his face. And his quick sense of humor adds to the fun. He loves interacting with his audience and it shows.
And that voice — oh, that voice. That’s what raw emotion sounds like, people. It has a roughness to it that seems to embody the heart behind his songs — this is a guy who’s been kicked down by love time and time again, but continues to believe in it enough to keep wanting it. Some would call it rough — I call it real.
Contrast this to the calm beauty of Markéta Irglová. Her voice is so pure — almost childlike in its innocence. But it has an almost deceptive versatility. When she’s harmonizing to Hansard, she provides a delicate counterbalance to his raw emotion. But when she takes the lead herself, her voice conveys all the same yearning behind Hansard’s loudest shouts.
When I first heard her sing, I thought she had a nice voice, but nothing special. But something about it just cuts right to the soul and makes you think about the most broken your heart has ever been. Hansard wears his heart on his face. Irglová wears hers in her voice.
I’ve just described two completely different artists. But like French fries and soft serve ice cream, you wouldn’t think they’d work together, but combine the two, and — magic.
Afterwards, they signed autographs for a really long time. Despite having just played an amazing show and the sight of a line of fans around the block, which couldn’t have been wholly welcome at 9pm, they stuck around and signed autographs and took pictures and were generally really nice to everyone.
Just me and Monster and The Swell Season (and some dude who works at Fingerprints -- lucky).
I saw Hansard initiate handshakes with anyone who seemed too shy to proffer their own hand (including me — I was momentarily flustered at being so close to a musician right after a show. The shekinah glory must have temporarily blinded me). Irglová, who was fighting a cold on top of having just performed, smiled bravely as she signed posters and posed for pictures. She even complimented my Czech.
They asked for each fan’s name and personalized every autograph. These are people that care about their fans and understand that they owe a lot to these people who pay money (well, except for me — thanks, Monster!) to hear them play.
And this is part of why “The Swell Season” is such an appropriate name for the band. Their music, their talent, even who they are — it swells the heart to almost bursting. I’ll take that over boredom any day.
The Swell Season’s latest album, Strict Joy, drops on October 27, 2009. You can click here to pre-order from Amazon.com or, if you’re too cool for Amazon, go to fingerprintsmusic.com.