There was an air of quiet excitement at the Fillmore Miami Beach Monday night, in advance of the Swell Season's Miami debut. The crowd was diverse, consisting of both the more discerning pop music listeners, and a smattering of young folk who'd undoubtedly gotten hip to the charms of the band through the movie Once. Everyone, though, possessed a sort of cool reserve that seemed fitting for the occasion. After all, the Swell Season is one of the most understated bands from any land, and it was as if those in attendance wished to honor that tact by keeping their anticipation to a low murmur.
Not that there wasn't a real tinge of excitement, mind you. The murmur had the subtle buzz that comes when a large gathering is about to hear something that no one has ever heard before, not in this town anyway. Something fine and pure and true and, yes, something indelibly tuneful. And from the moment the Swell Season took the stage it was clear the crowd had called it correctly. This would be one of those nights.
And oh, what a way to hit the stage: Marketa Irglova on the guitar and at the mike, with that ethereal croon of hers, and Glen Hansard at the piano, chiming in with his own heavenly harmony. The song opening song: "If You Want Me." The sentiment: "If you do, then why aren't you by my side?" It's a song of longing and wonder, disbelief and uncertainty, and live, it sent warm chills down everyone's spine. The crowd responded in kind, letting loose an applause that turned the pre-show murmur into a sign of outright adoration.
The give-and-take continued apace throughout the entire set, whether the song had come from the band's eponymous first LP and/or the soundtrack for Once -- "Want Me," If You're Mind's Made Up," "Falling Slowly" -- or last year's seriously beautiful Strict Joy ("Low Rising," "Paper Cup,"). Eventually it even segued into Kraftwerk ("She's a Model") or to Van Morrison ("Into the Mystic"). Sure, the quieter moments may have been greeted with a respectful hush, and the more dramatic segments might have sparked utter awe, but everything the Swell Season did last night was received with a resounding gratitude.
It's a graciousness that's inherent in Hansard and Irglova themselves, who never once throughout the evening missed an opportunity to express ow thankful they were to be there, onstage before a thousand and change. And though there were obvious highlights of the performance (Hansard's belting "Leave," the back-to-back close of "Mind's Made Up" and "Falling Slowly"), it was really the night itself that was the highlight - the entire night.
Personal Bias: Hansard and I have mutual pals, and you know that any pal of my pal....
Random Detail: Audience members showed respect the best way possible: they kept quiet till the very end of each tune.
By the Way: Irglova digs our town. "I think it's mental," she said, "but great!"