Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Swell Season
This past Friday I had the immense pleasure of getting out to see my first concert since my son was born... and wow, did I choose well. I blogged a couple of months ago on the film, "Once," one of those life-changing experiences I haven't had in a movie theatre since... well, I can't remember the last time, actually. (If you haven't seen it yet, I believe the DVD is scheduled to come out December 18). The two stars of the film, Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard -- the latter best known as the singer of The Frames -- are now touring the album they did together, called The Swell Season, which contains songs from the movie, and some of their own material.

After the show had completely sold out, there was a surprise announcement that Mary Margaret O'Hara would be the opening act. I never thought I'd see her perform live in my lifetime -- she almost NEVER comes out of hiding, and when she does, it's on very short notice -- and I am so happy I did. If you live outside of Canada and haven't heard of her (or if you live inside Canada and haven't... shame on you, I might add) she released her phenomenal album, Miss America, in 1989, I think it was (or maybe 1988) and has never recorded another note. Yet when she opens her mouth the most incredible voice comes out of it. Now, almost 20 years later, she came walking onto the stage like it was no big deal, and most of the audience knew they were in the presence of greatness.

Those who didn't know who she was, however, must have been a little baffled by the figure who wandered onto the stage. The photo here is not from that gig -- this is a show she did with Gavin Friday (a singer I love with the passion of a thousand suns). Instead, she walked out looking like Grandma at the nursing home. On laundry day. She had a button-down black top with a lavender-coloured sweater over it that was shorter than the shirt. Her hair was her trademark pinned up but tousled and falling apart. And then... the pants. They were spandex pants that were tight on the butt and thighs but flared at the bottom, and they had a zig-zag print in gold, purple, green, and black.

I instantly loved her.

She opened up her mouth and I looked at my brother and just said, "Oh wow." O'Hara doesn't sing in a falsetto, she sings with her real voice. It doesn't waver, it never gets a note wrong, and it is GORGEOUS. Think Patsy Cline with a weird musical sensibility. She howled, she growled, she wailed, she yelled... she sang a gospel song with screams in the middle of it. Her arm was shooting out, she constantly readjusted the microphone, she buttoned and unbuttoned the top button on her shirt. She's very fidgety, but it never affects the performance. Whenever she bantered with the audience, she did it when we were loudly applauding her, and the moment we stopped, she stopped talking, so no one could ever really hear anything she was saying. She was amazing, and if the show had ended right there, I would have sailed away happy.

But gladly, it didn't. Glen Hansard wandered out onto the stage to wild applause (nobody here seems to know who The Frames are, but they'd seen the movie and seemed to think he was the character in it). He sang one of the songs with nothing but an acoustic guitar, screaming out the chorus with such fiery passion it brought tears to your eyes. Then Marketa Irglova and two other performers came out, and the audience went wild again. They sang another song, then she took her place at the piano, where she quietly remained for most of the rest of the gig. Between songs Hansard would tell long, detailed stories about his inspirations for each of them, and they were fascinating and hilarious. The show was quiet and beautiful, and one of the best gigs I've ever seen (and before children, there was a time when I'd see up to three bands a week). It still doesn't top that Gavin Friday show at the Rivoli in April 1996, but hey, it came damn close.

If you haven't yet seen Once, please do.


Jonathan said...

I loved the show as well, but one slight correction: MMO did the soundtrack for Apartment Hunting that came out in 2002. You can read about it here:

Erin said...

That is amazing. I missed a chance to see Mary Margaret O'Hara perform on St.Patrick's day and I still cringe when I think about it. Her musicianship absolutely blows me away. What a treat!