Two years ago, the Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were in the middle of a fairy tale: A struggling singer-songwriter and an unknown Eastern European musician meet and more or less play themselves in “Once,” which becomes a sleeper hit, garnering them a near-platinum album and an original-song Oscar (for “Falling Slowly”). And they fell in love.
Their affair has since ended (a whirlwind roller coaster, as Hansard described it), but they’ve decided not to end their creative partnership, releasing “Strict Joy” (Anti-) last month, and supporting the album with a tour that pulled into L.A.’s Wiltern Wednesday night for the first of a two-night stand.
Both Hansard and Irglova have taken great pains to say that “Strict Joy” is not a break-up album, but both the often-contentious lyrics and Wednesday’s perf belied their claims.
Although they opened the show seated on the stage cheek to jowl, singing “Feeling the Pull,” there was not much interaction between the two of them. And while “Strict Joy’s” songs are not relationship autopsies looking for a cause or pointing fingers, a song that begins “I want to sit you down and talk” — just as in life — never precedes anything good.
It’s not that there was any tension onstage, but it was quite apparent that Swell Season is now more than ever Hansard’s band. Irglova, although her voice and piano were still prominent, was rarely a focal point; sometimes she even seemed to be a sideman in her own band. And they were now accompanied by Hansard’s band, the Frames.
The music didn’t suffer any. It breathed more, losing most of its hothouse flower delicacy. But the show was structured more like a revue than a show by a single entity. It started out with the two of them, then turned into a Frames show, followed by a solo turn by Hansard (including a wonderful cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” performed with a busker’s sense of showmanship, seesawing between yearning vocals and a punkishly strummed guitar), a couple of songs by Irglova (highlighted by “Solomon,” a lovely Czech folk ballad) and an encore that included a surprise appearance by Jason Segel, who performed his own very funny composition about using his celebrity status to sleep with a Swell Season fan.
But the evening ended with the spotlight squarely on Hansard. Finishing off with a new, as yet unnamed song that built steadily to a crashing finale, and the Frames’ “Red Chord,” which led into the benediction of the Clancy Brothers’ “A Parting Glass,” he sent the aud home as warmed and woozy as if they had shared a Jameson with the band.
The Swell Season play Radio City Music Hall on Jan. 19.