Once and Again: The Swell Season at the Orpheum


The Swell Season Orpheum Theater, May 7

There aren't many performers more adorable than the Swell Season's Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Still glowing from their Oscar win and the unexpected success of their homespun movie, Once, the duo played an almost two and a half hour set of songs from the movie and songs by Hansard's band, The Frames.

From the moment he stepped on stage, Hansard commanded the room. For his first song, the Irish songwriter stepped in front of the microphone and sang “Say It To Me Now” into the crowd with just his acoustic guitar to accompany him, tearing down the wall between performer and attendees. It was an intimate moment, and possibly the most engaging part of the lengthy evening. And that's saying something, because the entire show kept the audience at rapt attention.

I have to stop here for a moment. It would be unfair of me to report on this show with the pretense that I was somehow objective. I love the movie Once, and consider it one of my favorite movies of all time, and for the past two months in particular I have found the soundtrack to be both comforting and cathartic.

I don't mean to play the role of the jaded rock critic, but it's not often that I get excited about going to shows anymore. Sure, there's still the thrill of the chase, the hope that I might uncover something unexpectedly awe-inspiring; but very rarely to I look forward to a show, become giddy with excitement and find myself screaming uncontrollably the moment the musicians take the stage. This happened to me at the Swell Season show. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I sang along. I stopped taking notes and just wallowed in the moment, listening to Hansard tell neverending stories about ghosts, ex-girlfriends, and the difference between his heart and his head.

As I had hoped, the Swell Season played many of the songs off the Once soundtrack, but I was disappointed by how little Marketa Irglova was featured. Early on in the evening they had her take lead vocals on “All the Way Down” and in the encore she sang “If You Want Me,” but for the majority of the show she was either off to the side at her piano singing harmonies or off the stage entirely. It was clearly Hansard's show—which makes sense, to an extent, because he wrote almost all of the music—but it was strange to see her play such a minor role in the live setting when she was such a huge part of the film.


Regardless, the chemistry between the two performers was palpable. Between songs, Hansard and Irglova would whisper in each other's ears and laugh like they were in on a secret that we would never know. Their vocals mixed perfectly, so that at times when Hansard sang melodies in a higher range it was hard to tell who was singing which part. Even when Irglova was swept to the side, it was clear that she played a huge role in shaping Hansard's ever-evolving, increasingly lush sound.

The evening ended on a high note with a five-song encore that featured the Frames song "Star Star" and a brief interlude of the song "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Set List

Say It To Me Now All the Way Down Lies This Low Drown Out When Your Mind's Made Up Loved You Wrong Falling Slowly Leave What Happens When the Heart Just Stops Lay Me Down Go With Happiness Fogtown (Michelle Shocked) The Model (Kraftwerk) Once --- If You Want Me Blue Shoes (violin solo) Fitzcarraldo Star Star/Pure Imagination (Willy Wonka)/Hotel Lounge (Deus) Finale with Damien Dempsey