I think, more than anyone else, my Oxegen experience this year was nothing short of perfect. We had one of the best camping sites; I escaped every possible queue; I didn’t get attacked by drunks nor mauled by drug addled oddballs. The food was good and the rain didn’t even bother me. Most of all, I got to see all the acts I was hoping to see and was introduced to some great new performers. On the final night, we had a varied choice of final performances – The Swell Season, Rage Against the Machine, Ian Brown and Chemical Brothers. We decided to see The Swell Season, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova‘s band, in the Pet Sounds tent and it rounded off the festival for us. Their first performance on stage since winning the Oscar for Falling Slowly from the film Once was serene, simple and superb.
On Tuesday night, The Swell Season hit the Olympia. Anthony McG sorted out the tickets for Lottie and I and, after some fine dining in Eddie Rockets, we arrived just before the support act came on stage.
The Hare’s Corner is Colm Mac Con Iomaire‘s trad band, but they are a hell of a lot more than just the diddly-eye. The 8 piece all instrumental group, led by Mac Con Iomaire on the fiddle, played an energetic and modern set that would have whipped the crowd up better with some volume. It was the only downfall. They were exciting, fresh and while they didn’t have the heavier beats of Kíla (who are playing Vicar Street on the 21st December by the way), they are a band I’d love to see again.
There was a bit too long of a delay between Hare’s Corner departing and Swell Season taking to the stage, which quietened the crowd a little. Hansard et al didn’t get the rapturous greeting they deserved. Indeed, the first few songs, which were sweet and melodic, were met with applause and some polite whoops. But when they played their Oscar winning song, Falling Slowly, the mood turned and it became a night to remember. Falling Slowly was delivered with such passion and gusto that it was hard not to be drawn into the performance. From that point on, we they had us in the palms of their hands.
Kevin and Mark
One of the greatest spontaneous moments from a gig that I have ever witnessed – Hansard began to tell the story of two young guys they met over dinner earlier in the day, who were going to be at the concert that evening. He fluffed his way through telling us, mixed up the lads names and eventually blurted out that the two lads, Kevin & Mark, played a bit of music. One sings and the other takes to the guitar. Half joking, he called Kevin and Mark up on stage and with some cheers and cajoling from the audience, the pair finally make it up. Hansard and the band leave the stage and the two lads are left wondering what song they should do as we all look on, slightly embarrassed for them, praying they wouldn’t make fools of themselves. We need not have worried. They belted out a brilliant version of Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. Half way through the song the band slowly emerged back on stage to join in. It must have been such a special moment for Kevin and Mark. They got the first standing ovation of the night went and deservedly so. Fair play to them for having the courage and confidence to pull it off.
I asked Kevin what it was like playing with Hansard and the band and were they expecting to be asked up on stage:
Meeting Glen before the show itself was brilliant. He was really sound and actually had an interest in our music. But when he said during the gig to come up and play with him, on his stage, to his audience and with his guitar, my heart plummeted. The spontaneity of it all was just so much! –
If You’ve Gotta Go, Go With Happiness
When I first heard Happiness at Oxegen, I wasn’t over-awed. It was a quiet song and felt too raw and simple. Hearing it again on Tuesday night and I wonder is it the same tune. This time it has a haunting feel to it. Played it total darkness, except for the heavy drumming moments where the stage lit up with the drum beats like cracks of lightning, this was one of the finest moments of the night – a great spectacle.
Introducing the song Once, we find out that John Carney is hiding in the wings. Too shy to play bass on stage, Swell Season play on without him and the crowd love it. Hansard’s banter throughout added so much to the night. It helped create a sense of intimacy that a venue like the Olympia struggles to provide. The tight seating, the high stage and the formality of the old theatre prevent the closeness that other venues, such as Vicar Street, The Academy, Whelan’s and even our own Greystones Theatre, can provide.
And yet, Hansard managed to bridge the divide somewhat. Introducing the song Lies, he says it is the story of “the guy who tells the truth about things that didn’t happen”.
It would be easy to dismiss The Swell Season as just being Glen Hansard’s band. He does all the talking and most of the singing. But there is so much more to the band than that. Marketa Irglova’s incredible piano skills aside, her voice takes the harsh edge from his and provides perfect and hypnotic harmonies to compliment Hansard. It is only when she is left alone on stage though, that we discover how truly beautiful her voice is. A stillness came across the Olympia as she sang. You begin to think that we are getting two acts for the price of one in Hansard and Irglova. His voice is about passion, her’s sounds lovelorn and heartbroken. Gorgeous.