This originally appeared here on the Ticket Files blog for the Eugene Register-Guard

Irishman Glen Hansard and Czech multi-instrumentalist Mark├ęta Irglova took the stage to roaring applause from a full house at the McDonald Theatre Monday night. They quietly sat huddled together on the stage in front of a single microphone to play their charmingly low-tech song “Fallen from the Sky,” miniature keyboard and all.

Hansard and Irglova are best known for their performances as a busker and a talented immigrant in the 2006 award-winning Irish musical romance film “Once.” While the Swell Season is Irglova’s first big gig, Hansard has fronted the Irish rock band the Frames since the band’s inception in 1990.

In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect from these two three years after seeing the film. I wasn’t sure if it was the music that made me love “Once,” or just the enchanting love story. It didn’t take long for me to realize, with relief, that Hansard is a professional brooding rocker, and Irglova is his perfect foil.


Hansard’s voice swelled from a tender coo to a screeching howl in the song “Lies,” matched deftly by Irglova’s pure and delicate harmonies. The juxtaposition of Hansard’s gravelly yearning and Irglova’s gentle innocence is a winning combination, to say the least.

Backed by a full band, the show got into full swing as the Swell Season played several songs from its new album, “Strict Joy.” The songs, like “Low Rising,” are less woeful than the material from “Once” and take on a more mature, easy listening sound. Hansard’s passionate wails are still there, don’t worry, but they are tempered by sweeping melodies and complex, multi-instrumental arrangements.

Hansard, whose best work is both heartbroken and tormented, seems to have seen the light with the addition of Irglova, who took the lead on several songs from “Strict Joy.” While her humble presence and beautiful vocals were welcomed by the adoring crowd, the songs were considerably less gripping without Glen Hansard at the helm.

An undeniable highlight of the show came when the band left Hansard to play solo. Unplugged and stomping at the edge of the stage, Hansard belted out “Say it to Me Now” with power and an inarguably sincere passion that I have seen from few performers. The audience watched in rapture as he sang “Leave” with unbridled intensity. His kind of talent cannot be manufactured. It seems as if there is a direct line from his heart to his strumming hand, which moves with such speed that you can see only a blur. The evidence lies in the literal holes in his beaten-up guitar.

While Hansard’s fervor and talent put the audience in a state of awe, his demeanor between songs was cheerful and engaging. He told captivating stories and joked about his teenage self, the Irish church, and redeeming qualities of Americans as a whole.

Irglova joined Hansard on stage for a haunting performance of their Oscar-winning and fan-favorite song “Falling Slowly.” The pair’s contrasting styles are showcased in the simultaneous frustration and optimism of lyrics like “Take this sinking boat and point it home/ We’ve still got time.”

The full band returned to the stage for a rendition of “High Hope,” complete with audience participation. Hansard got the whole theater singing, and the audience even managed a harmony or two. After another rousing sing-along of “High Horses,” Hansard seemed genuinely amazed and touched by the crowd’s skillful contribution. “That’s just beautiful. Thank you,” he said with that Irish accent and an ear-to-ear smile.

By the time the Swell Season finished with the old Gaelic tune “A Parting Glass,” everyone was singing “Goodnight and joy be with you all,” and I suspect there were more than a few teary eyes in the house.

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