Sunday, August 22, 2010

sometimes i need a revelation...

sometimes it's all too much to take
sometimes i need a revelation
this time i'm making my own...

the swell season in portland, oregon 8-21-10

So much has happened since I last wrote in this sadly-neglected blog that I don't think I'll ever catch up (and I want to!), but I'll start with the most recent: seeing the swell season in Portland and Seattle this past weekend.

If you know me, you know that my two favorite bands - and my yardstick for that is that they are the only two bands i would ever consider traveling any distance to see (as you will come to understand in subsequent posts) - are Pearl Jam and The Frames. and my two favorite singers are Glen Hansard and Eddie Vedder. Really, I think that, money and time willing, I would eagerly follow either of those men to the ends of the earth. And still want be left wanting more.

The Oregon Zoo was, surprisingly to me, a GREAT venue for a concert. I walked past the people sitting on the lawn to the small standing area in front of the stage, where I positioned myself on what I affectionately refer to as "Mike's side" (as in McCready) for Black Francis and my beloved Glen and Marketa (and the rest of The Frames).

Glen and Mar began the show with a solo cover of Cactus; this was the first of many moments during this concert that reminded me of why I love this group so much. It must take guts to show up on stage and not only play but open with a song by the man who played right before you and whose music you love (in fact, later in the concert, Glen said that Surfer Rosa by the Pixies changed his life). I hate to bring up Eddie Vedder again (ok.. full disclosure: that's a lie, I love any opportunity I can find to talk about Ed), but it reminded me of him singing on stage with Bruce Springsteen or Pete Townshend.

Seeing Glen Hansard perform - whether it be with the Swell Season or the Frames - reminds me of why I love music so much, and of the transformative, cathartic power of witnessing songs performed live. One of my favorite songs from the Swell Season's first album, Leave, starts off with Glen strumming his guitar quietly and sounding like a man who is resigned to his fate; by the end of the song, it feels like he is purging his demons, or something, as he screams and plays his guitar so fast that strings break and pieces of wood go flying. And I'm serious when I say that; that's what happens. You can't take your eyes away, nor do you want to. This is what music is about. Joy, pain, happiness, anger, frustration... rolled up into one and delivered by a master storyteller.

At this point in writing this, I'll pause and admit that I actually wasn't looking forward to this show because I don't really like the last Swell Season album. In fact, more than once on Friday morning I almost talked myself out of driving to Portland for this concert. So it's a testament to the group that I can honestly say that, while I'm still not a fan of Strict Joy the album, I loved the songs performed live. And I'm not giving Glen an easy pass here because he's Glen (well, maybe I am), but honestly when Low Rising started, I wanted to do nothing more than close my eyes, sing along and pretend that I was the only person in the audience.

"This is an old Frames song," Glen said, before they started Revelate. This is one of the first Frames songs that I heard, and hearing it instantly brings a smile to my face. And when Glen sings, "My open arms, my lucky charms," I just want to reach my arms into the sky and hug myself all at the same time. I think of Revelate as a plea to god, a list of grievances to the world, and an embrace of life all put together into one song.

One of the best moments of the concert was at the end when they did the Pixies' Where Is My Mind? There is a video of this song taken from a concert at the Henry Fonda in LA on youtube that I have watched countless times. Before they begin, Glen says, "There is a song that we allow ourselves to play when we're in a really good space, and we're in a good space now." And I'm guessing they must have also been in a good space in Portland. Anyway, somewhere during the second verse, Black Francis came out on stage to sing with Glen. And it's apparent that these two are really good friends - there is something really amazing and cool about witnessing musicians who obviously have mutual respect for each other perform together.

And the most exciting part of all? Before the show even started, I noticed a postcard at the merchandise table that listed the North American cities on the Frames' upcoming twentieth anniversary tour. As they have now officially announced, the Frames will be playing in both of those cities in late November. And as luck will have it, the Seattle show is on the Friday after Thanksgiving and Portland is the following Saturday. Another perfect weekend? Yes, please.