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Friday, May 9, 2008

The Swell Season @ The Riverside Theater

Thursday, May 8, 2008

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Much of the crowd at last night’s sold-out Swell Season show was lured by one song: “Falling Slowly,” the endearingly modest ballad that the duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova memorably performed during the Academy Awards (and for which they took home an Oscar.) Having to live up to the expectations of that vulnerable, fish-out-of-water performance night after night must surely prove a challenge for the duo, but for at least last night’s show they found a novel solution. The WhitefishBay 8th grade choir had invited Hansard to their recital performance of “Falling Slowly,” Hansard returned the favor, inviting them to perform it with him in concert. As over-the-top as their vocal accompaniment may have been—did The Swell Season actually need to become more precious?—the large choir certainly lent an extra umph to the song, pushing it out of the Oscar performance’s shadow.

I’ve got to give credit where it’s due: Any band that goes the extra mile to coordinate this kind of performance mid-tour deserves some respect. And, I’ve also got to pass this message to the WhitefishBay kids—and I say this as a ShorewoodHigh School graduate who bleeds Greyhound red—you sounded damn good.

Hansard pushed his luck by keeping the choir onstage for a second song, a curious cover of The Pixies’ “Gigantic,” a track by most standards too sexually and racially charged for a middle-school choir. The performance was cute but uncomfortable—maybe it would have gone down easier had Hansard not hemmed over the song’s naughty bits and spelled out its meaning (it’s about “a dubious relationship between a white woman and a black man,” he explained, presumably to the chagrin of more than one parent).

Forgive me for going here, but I’m surprised nobody else has taken umbrage over this: As charming and talented as he may be, Hansard seems to have a bit of a history of corrupting youth. The late-thirtysomething has, after all, been dating his teenage collaborator Irglova for an unknown period of time. Audiences seem to find their May-December relationship romantic—that whiff of taboo poetic—but seeing the in-concert pairing between the seasoned, confident Hansard and the unsure, childlike Irglova made these songs feel less about timeless love than statutory rape.