Friday, September 18th, 2009

In These Arms

The Swell Season at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThis was the first year in many years that I did nothing at all involving TIFF. Not a screening, not a party, nothing. But I did get to do something tangentially cinematic on Wednesday evening, and that was attend a lovely little private show at the Dakota Tavern by The Swell Season, perhaps still better known as Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the real-life incarnation of the protagonists from the film Once and for it, winners of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

But while that film and award have obviously defined their career, it hasn’t been their career – prior to the soundtrack to the film, they released a self-titled album and come October 27, will release their second proper record in Strict Joy, and while that date is still some time off, the duo were in town to do some promotion and to play this show at a room a miniscule fraction of the size of Massey Hall, where they’ll be on November 3. Special? Yes it was.

Though accustomed to much larger settings, the duo were perfectly comfortable in the down-home environs of the Dakota. Rather than use her own portable keyboard, Irglova opted to use the house upright piano, giving proceedings a distinct roadhouse (and slightly out of tune) flavour. This left her set up back somewhat on the stage and put Hansard front and centre, which is how it would have seemed anyways – he was the stereotypical gregarious Irishman, quick with the wit and charm in between songs, at one point thanking those in attendance for coming to this show instead of going to see his countrymen U2 at the Rogers Centre (where they were headed after the performance, apparently).

And most Swell Season songs are led by his voice and guitar anyways, with Irglova adding understated but crucial harmonies and piano accompaniment – her presence may be understated, but it’s still omnipresent. It’s remarkable how full they’re able to make their arrangements with just those four instruments at their disposal. They did swap places for a song, with Irglova taking the guitar and lead vocals and Hansard hitting the ivories, but by and large it was Hansard in the spotlight. Though the show ran only around 40 minutes, they struck a decent balance between the new material and old. Being really only familiar with the soundtrack and not heard the new record, I’m not in a position to comment on where their sound is going relative to where it’s been, but it did seem like the new material lacked the sense of anguish that ran through most of the songs in Once, instead taking on a more peaceful or perhaps resigned tone. “When Your Mind’s Made Up” was the exception, delivered with the fire (and perhaps overdramatic delivery) that was Hansard’s signature in The Frames but by and large the show was a gentle one. Unsurprisingly, the highlight was “Falling Slowly”, which Irglova started on piano but abandoned quickly due to tuning conflicts with the guitar, instead joining Hansard on his chair up front for a proper duet and stayed for their final song, a cover of Tim Buckley’s “Buzzin’ Fly” – the perfect finale to the show.

Just as the romantic relationship between Hansard and Irglova was a key talking point circa Once, the end of said relationship prior to the release of the new record is sure to be of interest to spectators. But anyone looking for Richard and Linda Thompson-style tension would have been disappointed – there was still plenty of genuine warmth between the two, implying they’ve either found a place of balance or are much better actors than you’d expect. Given their long and complex backstory, it’s futile to try and fully comprehend the emotions that were palpable between the duo and though that’s obviously a compelling facet of their story, it’s really no one’s business but theirs. We get the music, and that’s plenty.

Photos: The Swell Season @ The Dakota Tavern – September 16, 2009
MP3: The Swell Season – “In These Arms”
MySpace: The Swell Season

Rolling Stone talks to director Jonathan Demme about making the Neil Young Trunk Show concert film.

Dean Wareham interviews Buffy Sainte-Marie for Magnet.

Prefix and Access Atlanta chat with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar while The Austin Chronicle reports that Farrar has teamed up with Will Johnson , Anders Parker and Jim James to put more of Woody Guthrie’s words to music, a la Mermaid Avenue. Obviously any discomfort Farrar has with being measured against Jeff Tweedy is long past – good for him.

There’s interviews with Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan at Washington City Paper, The Daily Times, Spinner, The AV Club and Billboard. Last night’s show in DC is also streaming at NPR. Yo La Tengo are at the Opera House on October 3.

Unexpected, yes, but also real – Pavement are getting back together, more than a decade after calling it quits, for a world tour that will kick off next September in New York City and visit a number of as-yet undetermined “big towns” (as which I hope Toronto qualifies). There will also be a compilation album released at some point next year to let newcomers understand why indie rock fans of a certain age are getting whipped into a frenzy by the news, but they’ve stated quite clearly that this is not a prelude to a permanent reunion – it’s a one-off tour and that’s it. Stephen Malkmus will be working on the new Jicks album this Fall and Scott Kannberg’s first solo record (albeit as Spiral Stairs) The Real Feel will be out October 20. Kannberg discusses how the Pavement reunion came about with Rolling Stone.

MP3: Spiral Stairs – “Maltese Terrier”

Aquarium Drunkard interviews Big Star drummer Jody Stephens about the band’s new Keep An Eye On The Sky box set, while Interview talks to John Fry, owner of Ardent Studios in Memphis where the band tracked much of their early, classic material. Spinner also talks to Stephens and is streaming one of the rarities which has surfaced in the box set.

NPR is streaming Unmap, the debut album from Volcano Choir, aka the new project from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon – the album is out Tuesday. Spinner talks to Vernon about the project.

Stream: Volcano Choir / Unmap

Bishop Allen are heading out for a Fall tour which will bring them to the El Mocambo on October 30.

MP3: Bishop Allen – “Dimmer”
MP3: Bishop Allen – “The Ancient Commonsense Of Things”

Thunderheist have set a date at the Mod Club for December 3.

Gawker has posted an excerpt from Our Noise, the new book chronicling the first twenty years of Merge Records, and have a nice Q&A with Mac and Laura of the label (and Superchunk) in the comments.

By : Frank Yang at 8:34 am
Category: Concert Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post6 Responses.
  1. marsha says:

    I know someone who knows someone who knows Malkmus (i know, sorry) and says those guys are in the pits financially, hence the reason for the on-off tour. Musicians touring on material/band they don’t care about anymore is sad and ruins the destructive spirit of rock music. Especially in this case, that it needs to be done with such an influential band like pavement, who I’ve heard described as the velvet underground of the 90s – will be fully revered a decade from now (they are right now but not to that extent), but not paid back for their efforts (in crowd support, etc); critical acclaim is no payback for them, i’m guessing.

  2. Jackson says:

    Pavement @ Massey Hall?

  3. Patrick says:


    Have you heard anything about a surprise White Stripes show while they are in town for TIFF? Unlikely I know, but if any band would pull a surprise it would be them.

  4. Dan the Music Master says:

    I unfortunately missed many TIFF events this year. However, I did enjoy this blog’s comprehensive review of Swell Season.

  5. SwellMeggie says:

    I actually found this before I attended the Swell Season concert yesterday. I didn’t know much about them and found this to be very helpful. I loved the show and was extremely impressed with them.

  6. macky-paige says:

    I love The Swell Season and I was so happy to find out that Once is becoming an off-Broadway play! Check out this awesome interview I found with the two of them.