' Cinema Romantico: How Often Does A Concert Like This Happen? Only Once

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Often Does A Concert Like This Happen? Only Once

Q: Who was in the presence of two Oscar winners last night?

A: I was!!! I was!!! And several thousand others, of course.


Yes, yesterday evening I settled into my seat at the luxurious Chicago Theater with my friends Matt and Trish for a performance by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the stars and composers and performers of just about every song in 2007's cinematic masterpiece "Once" (they, of course, earned the Oscar for their tune "Falling Slowly"), and the members of their band known as The Swell Season.

Don't you just love the unexpected? And not just the unexpected but the monumentally unexpected? For instance, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend last year my office unexpectedly closed down at three in the afternoon and so I perused the Chicago movie times and noticed a four o'clock show of that Sundance fave "Once" I'd been hearing some good things about and so I decided to check it out. I arrived at the theater early and sat in the one-fourth full auditorium flipping through the free movie news paper on display in the lobby thinking good thoughts but having no idea - utterly no idea whatsoever - that I was about to see a film that I would 1.) Return to the theater three more times to see, 2.) Be affected by in deep, profound, emotional, lifelong ways and 3.) Like so much I would wind up seeing the two leads live and in concert a tiny bit over a year later in the exact same theater where I saw The World's Greatest Band (i.e. The Arcade Fire) precisely one week earlier.

You know what else I love? I love a band that blows my hair back right at the start of a show. I mean, any band can do that and some have, like, say, The Avett Brothers at Schubas with a song I would only later find out was called "S.S.S." but then I knew nothing about the Avett Brothers prior to that show. No, what really blows my hair back is when a band I know and a lot of other people know serves something up right from the start to let you know the setlist won't be as straight-forward as you thought. I think, of course, of Bruce Springsteen solo at the Rosemont Theater and sauntering onstage and busting out "My Beautiful Reward"....on the pump organ. And I think of last night. How many people were there to hear the songs off the soundtrack? Most of us? All of us? And so Glen and Marketa and the rest of the band took up their instruments and played....a song I don't know that wasn't in the movie but was really, really f---in' good. Hair blown back? Check. That's how you open a show, folks.

From there it just kept getting more and more unexpected. There was the moment Hansard called for a young three year old named Ethan, who apparently has become a youtube sensation for singing the tiny ditty "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" that Hansard sings to Irglova on the bus early in the film, to come down from the balcony and join him onstage to sing said song. Ethan did, and the little guy knocked it outta' the park. There was the moment when Irglova came onstage alone for the first encore and explained to the audience the song she was about to sing was one she had not done on the tour and so if it wasn't good she just wanted to say she was sorry in advance. (How can you not dig someone so neurotic? And shy? Her piano faced away from the audience for the duration of the show.) The song was "The Hill", the one she plays for Hansard in the movie at the piano but can't finish because it's too painful. And, oh yeah, her advanced apology was needless because it was spectacular.

In concert Hansard is like the guy you might meet on the corner stool at the pub whose on the verge of having one too many but hasn't crossed the line yet and is regaling you with tales that are funny, poignant and somewhat ludicrous all at the same time. His introduction to the song that earned them their Academy hardware was absolutely perfect and his explanation of how a particular song was about how every couple is essentially trying to maintain an impossible balance in their relationship was more profound than any 275 self-help books combined. And a lot more jovial, too.

He even offered up a glorious f--- you (not in so many words) to all the Jessica Simpsons of the world and their lip synching and auto tune by vacating the mic, sitting on the edge of the stage and belting out "Say It To Me Now" (the song you see him playing by himself on the street as the credits roll) totally acoustic. We were sitting in pretty much the back row on the first level and, yes, you could hear him plain as day. That's a voice.

My favorite moment, though, was the "new song" fronted by Irglova on acoustic guitar with the rest of the band and Hansard on piano that was a bit longer then most of the others and built - really, truly built - to a repeating of the refrain "You were on my mind" over and over and over until the music cut out and she and Hansard repeated it a few more times. It was so haunting that as the song ended I realized at some point I'd clasped my hand around my neck and was threatening to strangle all the air out of myself.

They ripped off rollicking covers of Tim Buckley and Van Morrison tunes and Hansard made a point of advising these were songs they used to play when busking on street corners for pocket change. It made me think about how unexpected so many of these developments must be for the two of them. Yes, Hansard's original Irish band (which was part of the backing band onstage last night) The Frames have been successful in his native country but it was nothing compared to the level where he currently resides. You win an Oscar, man, and you're global. To go from playing guitar on the sidewalk to making a movie for "a hundred grand" with "two handycams" (as he said in his Oscar acceptance speech) to the Academy Awards must feel rather surreal.

Hansard had another great song introduction where he told the audience to envision a globe and that what you wanted was on one side and you were on the other. And you're trying to make it to the other side, to what you want, and maybe you're making progress but, really, it's only a "crawl". And sometimes you have to turn around, maybe go the other way, but keep going - no matter what. Keep going. I can't imagine that two singer-songwriters ever figured their Big Moment would come via a film but it did. A lot of the time it's never what you expect or when you expect it but if you keep going, it'll happen. Eventually. He and Irglova kept going. They got there.

And if they got there, I can get there. And if I can get there, you can get there. We just don't know when. What did Irglova say in her acceptance speech (the one when valorous Jon Stewart pulled her back out)? Ah yes, "....no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible." Yes. Yes, it is. Last night was affirmation. What a show.

1 comment:

Lexi said...

Hey Brother. Sounds Great! I like that they didn't expect their "trimuph" to be a movie. Just goes to show things happen when you least expect or how you expect.