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Live review: The Swell Season, She & Him and the Bird & the Bee at the Hollywood Bowl

July 20, 2010 |  7:59 am

SWELL_SEASON_325In another era, the Swell Season’s performance of “Falling Slowly” at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night would have been accompanied by 17,000 Bic lighters glowing in the summer air. 

The ballad catapulted the Swell Season, the Irish/Czech duo comprised of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, into the American mainstream when they won the Academy Award for best original song in the indie film “Once.” It’s a song tailor-made for heavy petting, and on Sunday night it certainly pleased the crowd.

But by that point – nearly three hours into the show, part of KCRW's World Festival -- the masses didn’t need much prompting. On an evening also featuring openers She & Him and the Bird & the Bee, the Swell Season walked onto the stage after the other two male/female duos (and backing bands) had rolled out a red carpet of lush, bouncy songs that filled the Bowl with good spirit.

“Have a glass of Chardonnay for me,” requested the Bird and the Bee singer Inara George as she greeted the crowd, accurately capturing its tastes. Wearing a sparkling flapper’s dress and offering sophsiticated cocktail pop music, George and musical partner Greg Kurstin, accompanied by a seven-piece band,  Bird_bee_325  delivered a sound that recalled Burt Bacharach’s adult-oriented songcraft. As well, they played two songs from the Bird and the Bee’s recent tribute album to Hall & Oates—”Sara Smile” and “I Heard It on the Radio”-- which set the crowd into nostalgia mode.

She & Him, the project of actress Zooey Deschanel and guitarist/songwriter M. Ward, offered a catchier fare, one that’s steeped in Brill Building pop and 1970s-era country music. Deschanel proved herself more than merely an actress with a singing hobby; her voice was powerful and confident, especially during the band’s final song, a take on Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” 

The Swell Season’s set pushed up the volume from the start. At times Hansard sang so hard it seemed like his eyes might pop out of his head. 

One of the highlights, though, was Irglova’s solo turn in front of the mike. Strumming an acoustic guitar, she dedicated a gorgeous, nuanced version of “I Have Loved You Wrong” to the actor Colin Farrell, who presented the Swell Season with their Academy Award at the 2008 ceremony. 


The nine-piece band crafted a sound that blended classic ‘60s soul – Hansard’s got a voice to rival Van Morrison’s and Otis Redding’s – with a brand of blue collar rock that suggested Bruce Springsteen. The Boss, in fact, wrote the final song that the Swell Season performed: “Drive All Night.” It perfectly captured what the Swell Season does best: conveying a passionate honesty that cuts through pretense and tackles pure emotion. 

-- Randall Roberts

Photos: Glen Hansard, top right, and Marketa Irglova. The Bird and the Bee's Inara George, center, and She & Him's M. Ward, bottom left, with Zooey Deschanel. Credits: Gina Ferazzi  / Los Angeles Times

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