Alone Apart

Bold man, that Glen Hansard. The Irish singer-songwriter opened the
Swell Season set onstage alone, with his battle-scared acoustic
guitar, singing "Say It to Me Now." A quavering voice, a strummy
guitar, a brittle but delicate song - tough sell at an outdoor rock
festival.

But the performance was riveting - at least the parts that could be
heard over the discussion about spray-on sunscreen that was taking
place inches from my ear.

By the time I pushed up to the front of the stage, Hansard had backup
- sort of: Czech singer-pianist Marketa Irglova, "Girl" to Hansard's
"Guy" in the indie-musical, "Once." Irglova's piano lines and harmony
vocals added depth and richness to the Swell Season sound, but no real
muscle, as their songs together were fragile and full of nuance.

Thus, when they performed "Falling Slowly," the elegiac, Academy
Award-winning ballad that Hansard referred to as "a hermaphodical
child" (you had to be here), he asked for help: "There's only two of
us, so if you feel like helping us out - sing!"

As is his norm, Hansard was in great humor throughout the set (while,
as is her norm, Irglova hardly said anything). He joked about his lack
of professionalism during a long guitar-tuning pause. He improvised a
lyric about Chuck Berry, with whom he was sharing a dressing room -
and then duck-walked during a guitar "solo." And he noted that
everything he'd learned about Baltimore came from watching "The Wire."

"I have to say, I was pretty scared coming down here," he said. But
you get the impression that not much frightens Hansard. The former
busker even ended his set with the most daring encore in the
festival's short history, jumping off the stage and into the crowd
when his microphone wouldn't work.

--J. FREEDOM DU LAC

By David Malitz |  August 9, 2008; 2:36 PM ET Virgin Festival
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