The Wexford Opera House is not the first place that springs to mind for a gig review. However, the doors of this grand venue are open not only to the great and the good of the classical realm, but also to members of a more contemporary music scene.
This plush setting for The Swell Season’s return to touring proved not just to be aesthetically pleasing, but acoustically magnificent. The general splendour was certainly appreciated by support act Lisa Hannigan, whose husky vocals and acoustic indie pop were perfectly at home on the operatic stage. The understated approach of Sea Sew may not push any boundaries, but it is through live performance that Hannigan’s appeal becomes obvious – her gentle charm might even earn her a Mercury Prize next month.
The large theatre soon filled almost to capacity, proving that there are still plenty of fans prepared to shell out €34 to see headline acts in their locality. Luckily, a lengthy set played to an adoring audience meant that few would be looking for their money back.
An ever rugged-looking Glen Hansard and his fresh-faced Once co-star Marketa Irglova were not long in taking to the stage. Accompanied by Hansard’s four Frames co-members, they opened with -Low Rising’, a track from the upcoming album Strict Joy. All six were clearly pleased to be performing where their music could do as the moniker suggests – swell. The gradual build-up of -The Moon’ was made all the more intense by having the room to grow, while pin-drop moments of silence were disturbed only by the clicks and flashes of digital cameras.
Fans of Hansard adore his emotional songwriting, whereas his critics grow tired of continually heart-wrenching material. A few onstage comments showed that he is aware of this reputation for musical misery, but is also prepared to mock the melancholy, as he did before playing a cover of REM’s -Hairshirt’. A wealth of self-deprecating and good humoured banter with the crowd made for a warm reception, and even the comparatively new-to-the-game Marketa defied her meek appearance with equally natural, rambling interaction. Her clear vocals and wonderfully uncomplicated piano and guitar playing are what makes The Swell Season stand out as more than just -The Frames with a girl’. Songs such as -I Have Loved You Wrong’ and -If You Want Me’ are a reminder that this the 21 year old is more than capable of going down the solo project route, even if the over-hyped -Falling Slowly’ has already been the height of her career.
Another capable solo artist is fiddle player Colm Mac Con Iomaire, whose traditional input has always added something extra to the sound of the Frames. He gave a suitably enchanting taste of his solo instrumental offering, The Hare’s Corner, before the full band returned for the ovation-earning -Happiness’. Old school Frames track -Red Chord’ was the final track which brought an extensive encore to a close.
The Swell Season rose to fame as an Irish film soundtrack, and soon hit the dizzying heights of Oscar recognition – but as success continues post-credits, it seems that once is not enough.