The Swell Season at the Paramount


When Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, collectively known as The Swell Season, took to the stage, it was impossibly cute: the two sat on their knees, he with a pom-pom beanie on his head and she with a Casio keyboard on her lap. It was a most intimate, warm and inviting way to start what would become one of the most open and interactive shows I have seen in a long time. The incomparable venue, the diversity of the audience, and the blow-you-away talent of the musicians made for a show that felt like a special, one-of-a-kind experience rather than just another stop on a whirlwind world tour.

To understand the performance, and indeed The Swell Season in general, it’s helpful to have a little background. Lead vocalist Glen Hansard founded the well-known Irish rock band The Frames in 1990, who were an integral part of the early 90s rock scene of Dublin. Notable past members include Damien Rice and John Carney, a filmmaker whose 2007, tiny budget musical Once first introduced us to the exquisite team of Hansard and Irglová. The two had collaborated prior to being cast in the film, but were rocketed to international renown when "Falling Slowly" from the film’s soundtrack won a 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

While the casting of two non-actors was a risky choice, there is something intoxicating about the pairing, which was stunning to see translated from the film to their live performance. Hansard is clearly a seasoned performer, and the evening was full of witty comments and crowd-engaging calls for participation. He even went so far as to sing “Happy Birthday” for a woman’s husband by request. While this would normally be cringe-worthy, the rapport built between the performers, and between the performers and the audience, it felt more like “Well, why not? We’re already friends, afterall.”

Hansard’s amazing vocal control, spanning octaves, jumping notes, screaming his head off one second and sounding downright angelic the next, were showcased several times throughout the evening.

- Eve Marcellus

Their new record, Strict Joy is out now on Anti Records.

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