Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Raise your hopeful voice
Last week, I finally managed to watch Once in preparation for seeing The Swell Season at the Overture Center. The film piqued my interest long before it was in theaters, and after failing to see it on the big screen I even received the DVD as a Christmas present. But it seemed to take the impending concert to make me, you know, go that extra mile and watch the movie. Of course, I really enjoyed it. Not having time to truly familiarize myself with the songs, I wasn't expecting to know most of the material at the show - but at least I'd have some sort of context for it.
As it happened, I surprised myself. I think I would have enjoyed the concert even if I hadn't seen the film beforehand, but I was actually able to place quite a few of the Once songs with their respective roles in the movie. ("Oh right, Glen sang that in the bus!" "Oh, this is the song Marketa wrote lyrics for after Glen said they were giving him trouble!" Except in the film, of course, they weren't Glen and Marketa.)
I've never been a big listener to the Frames' albums, but I've always loved them live - Glen live, particularly. He's charming onstage, very engaging, and an excellent storyteller. I was glad to see these traits carry over to the Swell Season performance. It was a bit jarring at first to see Glen presiding over a sold out and dressed up audience at the Overture Center, when the first place I saw him was the tiny, smoky Annex about five years ago. There was no question, however, that he was up to the task. Mar was excellent on piano and vocals, and I hadn't known she played guitar, but it turns out she does.
As much as I enjoyed the Swell Season songs, I was happy that some Frames tunes found their way into the setlist. At one point the band and Marketa left Glen alone onstage for a few solo tunes. This led to one of the highlights of the night for me. Glen plugged in and prepared to play "Say it to Me Now," then changed his mind, unplugged, and stepped out in front of the monitors. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good "sans PA from the tip of the stage" number.
Still solo, Glen gave a lengthy introduction for "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops." He began to sing, quiet words floating out over the hushed audience. All was perfect until, a few lines in, there came an abrupt noise. It originated somewhere near the front of the room, and although it was clearly seat-related (a chair scraping across the floor, perhaps) it also bore a distinct auditory resemblance to a certain bodily function. It would have passed without much reaction, but a smirk crossed Glen's face. As he strummed the guitar, you could see the internal "should I, or shouldn't I?" debate being waged briefly - and then he murmured, "Excuse me." The audience pretty much lost it, due to the juxtaposition with the song if nothing else. Glen grinned and kept strumming until the laughter finally died down. He opened his mouth to sing the next line, and then stopped. "I think I have to abandon this song, actually" he proclaimed. And he was correct. "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops" simply can't recover from a well-placed fart joke.
Among all the performance highlights, last night I realized for the first time what a terrific-sounding room the Overture is. I saw Wilco there last fall, and I thought the sound was just okay - but for the Swell Season, after the first couple of songs, it was fantastic. This type of performance seemed to be what the theater was made for. I'm glad that one side effect of all the accolades and the Academy Award is that the Swell Season wound up there, because I can't think of a venue that would have suited them better. It was also perfect for the solo violin tune by Colm Mac Con Iomaire late in the show. His CD was already sold out by the time I arrived that night - perhaps it sold out earlier on the tour. Good for him, but a shame for me.
Luckily, the entire show can be downloaded from PlayedLastNight.com in about a week for $6.00 (with a coupon code.) I'll be doing that.