If you haven't seen the beautiful Irish movie-musical Once, stop reading and immediately head to Blockbuster/Netflix/Surf the Channel and watch it. I saw the movie at Bethesda Row when it opened a few years ago and was immediately captivated by the soulful, heart-wrenching music. Once isn't just a movie or just a musical; there are long segments simply of the band playing and recording its album.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova deservedly won the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Falling Slowly," my favorite song from the film. (Point to note: Irglova is the first female Czech Oscar winner.)
Hansard and Irglova, along with Hansard's band The Frames -- the entire group is called The Swell Season -- first came to Seoul back in January but tickets sold out quickly. Apparently Once was a huge hit in Korea because, as my Korean friend Monica explained, audiences here enjoy emotional love stories.
The Swell Season did so well that they returned this weekend as part of the Seoul Jazz Festival, a weekend-long event featuring performers from all over the world. It was truly a 2-and-a-half hour music extravaganza.
Liam Ó Maonlaí opened the show and completely blew me away -- I'd never heard of him before but I'm definitely a fan now. This incredible Irish musician played a variety of instruments, from Irish standards like a tin whistle and bodhrán, to a traditional Malian percussion instrument. It set a fantastic standard for the show to come.
Besides singing a number of songs from Once, The Swell Season also did some numbers from its upcoming album. Hearing these songs live was a million times better than the movie. The sheer musical talent required absolutely blew me away. Hansard is an even better guitar player than comes across on film. He went on some incredible guitar riffs that really energized the audience -- it's now obvious why his guitar is so torn to pieces.
Sorry for the crappy quality of some of the photos -- we weren't allowed to take pictures so I quickly snuck a few.The highlight of the show were the times everyone unplugged their instruments, walked to the front of the stage, and sang and played without any microphones or electronics. Just a couple of guitars, a fiddle and the power of their voices. It was hauntingly beautiful and good fun.
The mostly-Korean audience (I expected there to be a lot more foreigners but my estimates say about 95% of the audience was Korean) loved everytime Hansard spoke Korean, even just to say "thank you." The show also included some local talent, including a young guitarist the band saw on YouTube and invited to appear at the show, and some other Korean musicians.
What a fantastic night! I never would have expected to see The Swell Season in Korea and as my first live performance in almost eight months (bar The Nutcracker back in December) it was an amazing night. I love live music!