It’s tempting to recap Saturday night’s Swell Season show at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore by merely quoting Jon Stewart: “Holy shitballs.” While an apt review, it’s slightly insufficient. (For the uninitiated, Irish indie-rock singer Glen Hansard had a band called The Frames. A few years ago while touring with The Frames, he met a bird named Marketa Irglova. He asked her to record an album with him. They did, under the name “The Swell Season.” That album inspired filmmaker John Carney to make the movie Once, using many of the songs from that album and asking them to just go ahead and star in the darn thing. Now you know. And if you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend Netflixing it.) I’ll be spending the next few days impatiently drumming my fingers on the table waiting for playedlastnight.com to get the audio from the show online or for the camera-phone Scorseses in the audience Saturday night to get some clips on YouTube. In the mean time, some of the highlights:
* I’ve never been to the Meyerhoff, but after Saturday I would start a letter-writing campaign to get any of your favorite acts to play there. Ordinarily it’s used as a classical music venue and the acoustics are phenomenal. The deep, swirling wall of sound that came through the place was, to quote Hansard, stunningly “posh.”
* They played Fitzcarraldo. When you name a song in homage to a Werner Herzog movie, you’re off to a good start in my book. When you play this song in my presence, you’re set for life.
* Glen Hansard is remarkably perceptive. To wit, if I may roughly approximate one of his song set-ups: “This song is about the Irish pastime of standing around in a field, listening to Bob Marley, smoking jazz woodbines, and handing over to the woman you love…a mix tape. The tape that says everything you feel about her but can’t say.” It was nice to see him standing around on stage, clearly very in love with creative partner-turned-actual partner Irglova, having a grand time. One has to assume that Once served as one hell of a mix tape.
* That perceptiveness continued right into his introduction of the song “Once.” Hansard spoke about the ability of a woman to sing a man to shipwreck. When he talked about this phenomenon at a show earlier in the year he alluded to there being poetry in the wreckage, either way.
On Friday night, I hung out with four friends from college and their significant others at a beautiful cabin perched high in the cliffs that border the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. Of the four, P is already married and M and I are both engaged. We’ll be marrying within about six weeks of each other. The fourth, E, has been happily dating a wonderful guy for a few years. But as she smiled slyly and draped her hand over a bottle imploring me to make her a cocktail shortly after I walked in the door (although not shortly enough for M’s taste, who was about to keel over), I learned that E is no longer just dating her wonderful guy. She is marrying him. That very morning her beau walked with her down to the natural, driftwood-strewn beach and then sunk to one knee and asked her to marry him while slipping his late grandmother’s ring onto her finger. Later that night, as one of the guys snapped a picture of the four of us with our arms interlaced I thought about where we’ve all been.
We’ve been there for the start of new relationships, we’ve stared in wide-eyed horror as flings with the lifespan of bugs hovering over a highway ended with all manner of indignities both delivered and received that in retrospect were often more hilarious than anything else, and we’ve consoled each other when the ones we thought were The Ones weren’t. We have crashed ourselves, and we have sung our share of men to shipwreck. I’m not entirely convinced we’re not all doing the same thing now, because I believe that for people to love each other so completely that they decide to devote the rest of their lives to each other is to essentially acknowledge they want to steer directly for the rocks. I believe the decision to marry means that you think you have some idea of how to handle the impact.