If you haven't seen the 2007 movie "Once," and you really love a romantic story, coupled with an unbelievable soundtrack, you might want to do yourself a favor and rent the DVD. Notwithstanding the fact it won an Oscar in 2008 for Best Original Song, the movie has an almost documentary feel to it, yet it's the music that pulls you in tight and doesn't let go.
Because of this movie, my husband and I have been wishing we could see the then-unknown stars, Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard and the classic-trained Czech pianist Marketa Irglova, perform in person. We hit the jackpot yesterday by scoring tickets to the Paramount Oakland Theatre to see The Swell Season, a band formed by these two remarkable musicians.
We hopped on the Capitol Corrider train out of Sacramento Friday afternoon, which dropped us but a few blocks from The Waterfront Hotel in Oakland at Jack London Square. The Paramount is about 18 blocks up Broadway from there.
Even though the show didn't really get started until about 8:30 and ran until after 11 PM, I managed to stay awake, way past my bedtime, because it was so riveting. You should see Glen play guitar. He's like a madman on steroids. He strums lightening-bug fast. So fast you'd think his guitar would catch on fire. He can put Pete Townsend to shame.
I know a thing or two about Pete Townsend. I grew up in the 1960s. When I was 12 and entering 7th grade, I begged my parents for a piano. I used to go across the street to teach myself how to play my neighbor's basement piano. I taught myself to play Christmas carols by writing the notes on the keys in magic marker. Instead of a piano, though, my parents bought me a guitar and sent me to take lessons. I was told that until I could play a song 6 times in a row without making a mistake, I had not mastered the tune.
So much for Red River Valley and Old Black Joe. That was enough to make me want to tear out my hair. I wanted to play the Beatles.
Glen's vocal range is amazing. The music is raw, emotionally charged, sweet and bittersweet, raging, rip-roaring passionate and brutally honest. Mar, who truly must have fallen from the heavens, lends the duo balance and clarity through the voice of an angel. The sound of The Swell Season is absolute perfection, on par with the reflection of mountain tops mirrored in the still water of an Alpine lake.
Here's a link to Falling Slowly and another to a free MP3 of Low Rising. Glen and Mar are simply magical. There are no other words to describe these guys. They have a new album out, Strict Joy. I encourage you to buy it. And if you have a chance to catch their North American tour, I promise you, you won't regret it.
But I don't recommend that you ever stay at The Waterfront Hotel at Jack London Square. Not if you want to sleep at night. The train goes by, the horn sounds and you'll wake up. Plus, there are no honor bars in the rooms nor bathtubs, and you have to walk outside to go around the hotel to reach its restaurant, Miss Pearl's. But that was a small price to pay to see The Swell Season in person.
Click here for Day Two in San Francisco and the King Tut Exhibit.
Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub