‘Once’ duo reunites for captivating Swell Season concert

At Cadillac Palace Theatre, Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova and band revisit “Falling Slowly” and the movie’s other enduring songs, and pay homage to Ireland and Ukraine.

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Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard of the Swell Season perform Saturday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Anyone who rewatched “Once” ahead of the Swell Season’s recent rturn to a Chicago stage could feel life imitating art as the concert evoked the movie and its heroes.

The ebullient atmosphere inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre even went so far as to recall Marketa Irglova’s powerful words at the 2008 Academy Awards as she and Glen Hansard accepted a surprise Oscar for best original song, when she triumphantly declared, “Fair play for those who dare to dream.”

That sentiment has followed the duo since 2007, when their little movie that could (created by John Carney, former bassist in Hansard’s band the Frames) swept Sundance and international audiences, going on to become a critical darling and still regarded as one of the best modern love stories. So much so, that in 2012, it was adapted into an award-winning Broadway musical.

“Once” and the band that rose from it, the Swell Season, are the epitome of the ultimate underdogs, catapulting to cult classic status in a way that’s been as folkloric as the folk music that spawned emerged from it.

That much remains certain in the act’s latest completely sold-out tour, just six short stops across eight days to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the film and the band’s return to the stage after 10 years.

Seeing the adoration for the story, its soundtrack and its stars continue after all this time just goes to show true love stories never die, and there are many people still rooting for this one to work out.

Hansard took pause of that feeling during the show, thanking the audience for “convincing us this is still something worth doing” before delivering sweeping versions of the impassioned gems from the soundtrack.

The night opened with the crescendoing explosion of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and continued with “All the Way Down” and of course the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly,” which inspired a man in the crowd to bring his girlfriend up to the front aisles and propose to her as the house and band cheered.

The love fest continued throughout the night, taking on a more human perspective as the Swell Season paid homage to Ukraine and the people of Europe. The Frames guitarist and Chicago native Rob Bochnik had one of the shining moments of the night, delivering a traditional Polish/Ukrainian folk song “Hej, Sokoly,” about a soldier going off to war, that received the first of many standing ovations.

The eclectic ensemble also made for an international stage with representation from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Iceland, France and Finland. It was also the first time Marja Tuhkanen (violin) and Bertrand Galen (cello) — the Swell Season’s original session musicians — were able to perform live with Hansard and Irglova after visa issues nearly compromised their chance to do so. It would have been a shame, as the string section added incredible depth of sound to the material and gave even more pull to the emotional gravity of the simple yet powerful setup that captivated fans.

The troupe was rounded out by bassist Joe Doyle, also from the Frames and an Irishman like Hansard, who of course had to comment on the St. Patrick’s Day festivities happening outside the theater as the city welcomed back the holiday parade for the first time in two years.

Though lamenting the caricature the holiday can sometimes become, Hansard admitted how incredible it was to have an “international day of Ireland,” and the band celebrated in the way only they could, by singing songs of the homeland.

There was a rousing sing-along of the Irish prison folk song “The Auld Triangle” (even coaxing a stagehand and the band’s sound guy to take part), and the piece de resistance: an operatic take on “Danny Boy” delivered by the endearing Patsy Kearney, mother-in-law of the band’s Chicago-based manager Howard Greynolds.

Chicago was a unique place to see this tour; the city has become a home away from home for the band and, as Hansard noted, was the first place outside of Ireland that truly embraced the Frames.

A few weeks before the Swell Season holed up in the North Side rehearsal space Fort Knox preparing for this tour, Hansard was in town again, opening for Eddie Vedder at the Auditorium Theater (he’s also now a part of Vedder’s Earthlings band). And though Hansard gave a tempting preview of Swell Season material that was to come, it was so much more enigmatic on this night with Irglova’s harmonizing splendor.

In the time that the Swell Season has been away, Irglova’s voice in particular has become even more refined and toned, and it added even more to her interplay with the consummate showman Hansard, who always gives his all. It was evident as she stepped away from the piano and up to the mic for the haunting “If You Want Me,” and when she debuted solo material like the meditative “Quintessence,” proving why she was recently a strong contender in the Eurovision contest.

The night’s set list also featured songs from Hansard’s solo career as well as the Swell Season’s last album, 2009’s “Strict Joy,” leaving many to hope there’s going to be a second chance for the “Once” soulmates. And perhaps feeling the gravitas of the moment, Hansard all but suggested it. “The Swell Season had a life, and it ceased,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t have another life.”


  • “When Your Mind’s Made Up”
  • “The Moon”
  • “If You Want Me”
  • “Sleeping”
  • “This Low”
  • “Low Rising”
  • “My Roots Go Deep” (Marketa Irglova solo song)
  • “Return” (Glen Hansard solo song)
  • “Lies”
  • “Feeling The Pull”
  • “What Are Going To Do” (Glen Hansard solo song)
  • “Into the Mystic” (Van Morrison cover)
  • “All The Way Down”
  • “Quintessence” (Marketa Irglova solo song)
  • “Hej, Sokoly” (Polish/Ukrainian folk song)
  • “Falling Slowly”
  • “Gold” (Interference cover)
  • “The Hill” (Marketa Irglova solo song)
  • “Leave A Light” (Glen Hansard solo song)
  • “Danny Boy” (Frederic Weatherly cover)
  • “The Auld Triangle” (Brendan Behan cover)
  • “Her Mercy” (Glen Hansard solo song)
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