The Swell Season (live in the Uptown Theater, Kansas)
Review Snapshot: The music was great, the stories were not. Glen and The Frames were as remarkable as ever in their performance and still have what it takes to wow new audiences. Marketa added texture and a breath of fresh air to to the proceedings. Unfortunately Glen's involved stories and self indulgent ramblings detracted from what was otherwise a stellar Frames performance.
The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10
Full Review: I’m a long-time Frames fan, I admit it. I first saw them in Dolans in Limerick, circa 1995, during my halcyon college days. I’ve interviewed Glen and Colm and been to my fair share of Frames gigs in the intervening years. My slavish following has waned in recent times, so it was an unusual pleasure to find myself in Kansas City, Missouri on a Monday night with tickets to see Glen and Marketa, aka The Swell Season.
Upon walking into the Uptown Theater in Kansas the brawny voice of Damien Dempsey was echoing around the auditorium. I only caught his last two songs but he seemed to get a warm reception. The Uptown Theater is something like The Olympia after a colour explosion; embossed orange wallpaper, Grecian statues and urns and an almost Mexican feel to it. The crowd was diverse, plenty of soccer moms and dads, and every age from babes in arms to Grandma and Grandpa.
The show opened with ‘Say it to me now’ with Glen at his acoustic best, all alone on the edge of the stage, no need of a microphone. He went on to introduce Marketa and the two of them launched into, ‘All the Way down’. I have to admit I had goose bumps; their voices combined produce a hauntingly beautiful sound. Glen invited the guys from The Frames out on stage and then characteristically got a little carried away with a shout of “Yeah F*ck Yeah” which shocked the politically correct American massive. But he recovered and explained the inspiration for their song ‘This Low’. It involved finding and reading a self-help book left behind after the breakup of a relationship. They seem to enjoy his talking here; maybe it’s the lilting Irish accent. It’s a stunning love song and built up to a crescendo of heartfelt emotion, with Marketa harmonising during the chorus.
Next up was ‘Drown Out', again preceded by a long and rambling introduction, far too long to go into here. Suffice to say it’s inspired by a story of religious persecution in the 1400s and a ghost speaking through the husband of a reiki healer that Glen knows. I’m not sure even the Americans were getting it. The song sounded good though, with Colm’s fiddle adding power as did the piano accompaniment.
Finally some beats and energy. The whole band got involved on ‘When Your Minds Made Up’and the place rocked to the strong drum beat. Colm was sterling as ever on the fiddle. This was much nearer to The Frames magic of old. Marketa adds sparkle and lightness to their overall sound and she sounds so charming with her Irish accent. For her next melodic offering, possibly entitled ‘Forgive me lover’, she introduced Graham Hopkins (Therapy? and Halite) as her accompaniment on drums.
‘Falling Slowly’, Glen and Marketa’s Oscar winning song got a great reception. Typically Glen expanded on his Oscar glory. He used a metaphor of kicking a ball which goes way beyond where you expected it to. “You just wanted it to go over the wall but it kept going and now you want your ball back”. He told how he was sad because of everything he’d been for 20 years (in The Frames) and now he’s singled out as the “successful guy”. His language throughout the evening was smattered with expletives and his excuse? He blamed the 800 years that the English had beaten our language out of us, so he believes it’s now our job to corrupt the English language. At this point I was almost ready to leave.
I didn't, and next up, appropriately enough, was ‘Leave’. It’s a heart wrenchingly, aching love song. Glen sang it alone and built it up until he was almost spitting out the words. You could feel the genuine heartache on it. This was followed by ‘What happens when the heart just stops’, another sad relationship song.
Marketa took to the stage again and they delivered one of their favourite busking songs ‘Just wishing that I had just something you were’ by the Pixies. The glorious ‘Your Face’ was all Glen with gentle backing music and harmonies; it brought me right back to all those nights in dark, packed venues around Ireland, mesmerised by the songs and overflowing emotions. To finish the show it was Marketa with ‘If you want me’. It’s almost a Lisa / Damien phenomenon. The rapt audience barely exhaled as Marketa’s poignant voice filled the theatre. She sounded so strong with Glen on backing duties.
The encore started with ‘The Blue Shoes’ Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s masterpiece on the fiddle. Some people started to leave but he entranced the remaining spectators. The whole band came back and Glen commented that it was his favourite night of the tour. Then into ‘Fitzcarraldo’, I couldn’t believe I knew all the words and even found myself singing along. It’s hard to beat the Frames fan out of me. Next up the strummed opening bars signalled the start of the tender ‘Star, star’ which, as always, moved into ‘Pure Imagination’. Glen gave Joe his time in the limelight.
If there’s one thing you can say about The Frames they never stop giving, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lacklustre performance from them. Next another ‘Frames’ classic and one of my favourites ‘Red Cord’. I’m lost to them again. All the talking and throwaway comments from Glen forgotten in the passion of their performance.
I ended the night with mixed emotions, varying from pride at the positive reaction they got from the crowd to embarrassment at some of the comments made during the evening. But I’m a lifelong fan so it’s hard to detach myself. This may be the time to really introduce the music of The Frames to the wider world, I just hope Glen manages to let the music speak for itself.