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Glen Hansard leapt up on stage with just his guitar; no mic, no band, just him and his powerful voice singing “Say It To Me Now,” the way his busking character did in the movie “Once.” That set the tone for the rest of the night, where it seemed that Hansard and his partner, Markéta Irglová, were playing out the movie’s sequel, except live, right in front of us, in downtown Milwaukee.Glen Hansard

Even the small things, like the way Hansard pronounced things as “tings,” the way he did in the movie, or Irglova’s dowdy outfit (c’mon, a polka-dotted, shin-length red skirt and a cardigan top?) recalled the big screen.


And let’s just get this out of the way now: technically, the sound was perfect, the band was perfect, Hansard and Irglova’s voices were perfect. No doubt about it, this was a well-tuned, well-practiced machine of a performing band. (It makes sense; Wikipedia says Hansard has been busking on streets since he was 13).

But the thing about technically perfect performances is that it leaves you with a lot of time to mull over the non-technical details, like how Hansard’s passionate performance was intense, but in between songs…well, he talked a lot. He tuned his guitar a lot. And then he talked again. And just when you thought his story was over, he would go off tangent and talk some more.

It made you wonder if he was acting out a role — extending his charming, passionate character some more — or if he was really that way.

Glen Hansard's guitar

And I don’t mean that in a bad way; it was entertaining and fascinating. The most beautiful thing about a man and his guitar is that the seeds of creation are transparent — instead of hearing blips and glitches made by fiddling with knobs, you have an idea of just what a song sounded like from inception. A very clear blue print, if you may, of the creative process. With the running commentary (every song started out with “this song is about…”) it was kind of like seeing God in action. If God were to explain the reason he made grass soft and spikey, or why the moon looks like a sliver of a thumbnail once a month.

Except for the flawless performances, the night was a loose, roly-poly evening. Sometimes Hansard took the audience to the street, asking them to sing or yell or whisper along at every opportunity. Other times it had a sit-around-a-campfire vibe, with him telling ghost stories. And throughout the night, it was interesting to see the relationship dynamic of the couple, manifested through their performance.

The Swell Season

Irglova and Hansard fell in love during the making of “Once”; he is 37 and she is 19. Onstage you could see that Irglova is Hansard’s protege. She sang solo on a new song “about forgiving” and began introducing it the way he did, trying to be funny and verbose — but failed miserably. Hansard, savvy in the art of stage banter, was interesting even when being chatty. Irglova was just…awkward. Luckily, that awkwardness didn’t translate to the song, which was performed beautifully. (And her accent was so cute! Like in the movie! “Fuck you batteries!”)

Marketa Irglova

And although Swell Season is marketed as Irglova and Hansard, it was totally just Hansard’s show. He loved the stage and cherished spending time with the audience. It was as evident on his solo numbers to the rousing songs he performed with his whole band, which included everyone harmonizing as well — even the violinist. (“When Your Mind’s Made up” was one of the night’s  many highlights.) Irglova and Hansard’s voices were so warm and soothing, like a bed to lie down in.

swell season with the whitefish bay choir

The real high point of the night came when the band brought out an eighth-grade choir of kids from WhiteFish Bay to sing “Falling Slowly” with them. Apparently they had emailed the band and asked them to watch the choir perform while in Milwaukee; Hansard proposed that they sing it onstage with them instead. It was a gimmick, but it worked GREAT. So great, in fact that Hansard did an impromptu cover of the Pixies song “Gigantic” with the choir as well. (He said, “this is a song about the love between a white woman and a big black man.” Not very politically correct, considering the children behind him. But he’s Irish, so maybe that can be forgiven. He also compared the kids to the characters of the Judd Apatow show “Freaks And Geeks,” which they had been watching in their tour bus.

Swell Season

The band played for two hours, playing most of the hits from the movie and test-driving a couple of new songs. Throughout the performance, Hansard’s stamina did not wane. The audience lapped up the whole confessional, singer-songwriter schtick that Hansard mastered so well. There was the tale of his Goth girlfriend agreeing to be buried with him when they were 16 years old. There was the recurring theme of heart vs. head. There was even a story about how his Oscar ended up with his mother, and how she used it like a back stage pass. The audience lapped up every (long) story, but I wondered how much of his personal life was left for himself. Didn’t he get tired of sharing EVERYTHING?

Glen Hansard

I came to the conclusion that Hansard is ultra-talented but I would kill myself if he were my boyfriend. He seems too emotional, too needy, too generous with his love and time and stories. It manifested in every way during the show: almost everyone in his band had some time in the spotlight, either perform solo on their instruments or singing songs by themselves. He asked the audience to sing along, even to songs they’d never heard before (here’s a lyric: “the L triangle went jingle jangle all along the banks”). He listened to requests.

His opening act, the gigantic Damian Dempsey, said that the first time he saw Hansard perform, all the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He called them musical orgasms. Hansard is totally capable of giving people MMO’s (multiple musical orgasms), but, as in real life, at some point you just want to go to sleep.

Blog Party guest contributor Sonya Knauss talks about Ryan Adam’s show at Riverside Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 25

I should’ve guessed how moody Ryan Adams can be just by listening to his lyrics. I only own one of his CD’s, “Heartbreaker,” and it’s full of, well, heartbreak. Painful.

He’s the guy who wrote the song “Come Pick Me Up,” which Tim Cigelske described to me as “the most depressing love song of all time.”

A lyric sample:
I wish you would
Come pick me up
Take me out
Fuck me up
Steal my records
Screw all my friends behind my back
With a smile on your face
And then do it again

You can watch a version of it here:

Unfortunately, he didn’t play that one last night, even though the crowd asked for it on several occasions, which visibly pissed him off. I’ll get to that part in a minute.

But let’s backtrack to the beginning…

I walked into the Riverside just before Ryan Adams and the Cardinals started playing around 8:30. Perfect timing. The set-up included a starry-night backdrop, with a big disco ball hung high above the band.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals at the Riverside Theater

They launched the show with an energetic “Wild Flowers” and went right into the next few songs pretty seamlessly. After “Games,” which was charming with its spare lighting and haunting harmonies over lyrics like “You ain’t but a fire on my sad estate / Burning my house to the ground,” the band picked up the tempo and amped up the sound for a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Cold Roses.”

At that point I was thinking to myself, “this band is really having fun!”

Someone yelled out, “Thanks for coming to Milwaukee!” The audience was really responsive, and I settled in to enjoy the concert.

But at some point, Ryan Adams got pissed off. I think it was after the sixth song, “Rescue Blues,” when some loud chick yelled out “take your shirt off!” in the midst of some other song requests being called out by the audience.

Ryan Adams, who mumble-yelled into the microphone just about every time he addressed the audience (except when he was inexplicably whispering) said something like, “Don’t feed the animals unless you want to get bit!”

People laughed a little, and they got on with the concert. After a few more songs I noticed just how little he was engaging the audience. There was no banter or friendliness, and I sensed an increasing hostility towards the audience, who was good-naturedly yelling out requests for his older songs from his solo albums or “I love you”- type comments between almost every song.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals at the Riverside Theater

At one point during a set change he encouraged the audience (whispering the whole time) to “observe the cardinals in their natural habitat,” and led a ridiculously elaborate sound-along with the audience pretending to make jungle noises.

But two songs later, he’d had it with audience participation.

“I’m starting to think that maybe people of my generation don’t have any patience,” he grumbled after a third request for Pick Me Up was yelled out. “I’m not even relatively that good, and you don’t have any patience,” he said, clearly exasperated.

Then he got on with it, but the message was clear. Shut up and listen! I don’t want to hear from you.

I think at this point I leaned over to Lille and whispered, “I don’t really like being in a concert where you’re afraid you’re going to make the singer mad!” and she told me about a show her friend went to where he got pissed off at the audience and just left after only a couple songs. (Lille’s note: We also couldn’t take photos close to the stage — clear instructions were given to take them from back of the theater, and nothing else.)

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals at the Riverside Theater

He reminded me of one of those aloof, mysterious guys you get a crush on in high school because they’re just so unavailable and show no interest in you. The audience kept trying to shower their love on him even after he made it clear he was just not that into them.

Regardless of his bad attitude, the concert was worth going to. The music was great, especially the songs from his new CD, “Easy Tiger.” His jeans were way too tight, but I guess that’s rockstar fashion for ya…

I’m a sucker for a good steel guitar, and there was plenty of it in this concert. The Cardinals are a good fit for Ryan Adams, and he spent most of his time playing guitar along with the band rather than sitting at the piano.

I hope for his sake he starts enjoying what he’s doing a little more, because he certainly didn’t seem happy to interact with a friendly and welcoming Milwaukee audience who clearly adored him.

Even though I don’t feel like the concert was a rip off, it seems fitting to end with these lyrics from the song of that name on “Easy Tiger:”

I make these promises but all my promises hurt
It’s like they never get a lift off
So if i’m being honest with you and i seems like i’m being cruel
At least you didn’t get a rip off, a rip off, a rip off
And you’ll know how i feel
Like a rip off, a rip off, a rip off

“It smells a lot like patchouli,” Sonya told me as we hunkered down to our seats, a little late. Ani DiFranco, new mom and feminist folk singing hero, was already slinking around the stage. I think she was singing “Napoleon” when we walked in, but I don’t know how much we missed.


I listened to Ani DiFranco so much as a teenager, I couldn’t believe I had never seen her before. I never imagined she was so kinetic on stage. Sonya told me she’d seen Ani about 10 years ago and this show was much more chill — something I found hard to believe.

Ani talked a lot about being a new mom, sang tunes crafted in labor about her new baby Petah (“you don’t want a labor where you’re able to write songs,” she quipped), told stories about her neighbors in Buffalo and how she felt at home in Milwaukee, being that it was a town that steel forgot.

The mostly female crowd lapped up every word, and cheered with gusto after every song, but it wasn’t until her last number, “Shy” that everyone stood up and stomped their feet and danced along. Ani laughed and said something like, “I feel like I went on a blind date and you date is all prim and proper until you both get drunk and you end up making out on the table.” (Honestly, I think it was more that the audience was so spellbound by her, or didn’t want to make too much noise and interfere with her show. I could definitely feel the love from everywhere, and I was sitting down towards the back.)

Melissa Ferrick, her opener, played the trumpet for the encore, “Little Plastic Castle,” and sang harmonies for the last song. Alas the show was over sooner than everyone would’ve liked. It’s hard to get your fill of Ani, I guess.

It got pretty emotional for me; she sang old favorites that I recognized and new ones that just made me cry. And I don’t mean little tears pricking the sides of my eyes. I mean I was almost all-out sobbing, just because she was so intense and funny and good. I love a lot of musicians but I rarely ever feel this welling up of emotion when the musician is playing right in front of me. I mean, I’m cooler than that. Right?

I was just kind of embarrassed because I wasn’t alone, yet at the same time, I felt like if I did bawl my eyes out, the chicks with shaved heads and dreadlocks would all understand.