I saw and heard many shows in all my time spent photographing at McCabe's Guitar shop. Many were great. Dave Alvin, Geoff Muldaur.....the first time I heard Pieta Brown accompanied by Bo Ramsey. Wow! But my all time favorite, easily, was the night Swell Season played a secret show a week before the Oscars.
This was in 2008. The duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were on the rise with the movie "Once" gaining more and more attention and were in town for the Oscars with their song "Falling Slowly" nominated for best song.
They came by McCabe's to hang out and check out the store when Lincoln the concert director saw them. After introducing himself and chatting for a while, he asked them if they'd be interested in playing a show while they were in town. Having heard of the guitar shop and its legendary concert series, they were excited to be asked to play there and agreed. This was on a Wednesday. By Thursday morning, the show was sold out and they were slotted onto a time slot Saturday night after a previously scheduled show.
Saturday night came and the prevailing mood was that of excitement. The fans were excited to see the duo in an intimate setting of 150 capacity room. (In terms of intimacy, a McCabe's concert is just above that of a living room concert. Some musicians are unnerved by this level of intimacy, long used to playing in clubs with deafening sound systems run by tin-eared soundman, clinking and clanking of the bar and club goers talking and trying to score. For the music lovers, it's a dream.) The usually jaded McCabe's Guitar Shop staff were excited, many of them staying for the show, giddy like schoolkids. And most importantly, Glen and Marketa were excited. The excitement of finally achieving what you wanted for so long.
After years of toiling and touring and trying to gain any kinds of traction in the states, things were finally paying off for them. Their songs were finally being heard, The little indie movie they were in were getting the "lightning in a bottle" kind of buzz, and something that probably never occurred to them; an Oscar nom.
Befitting a group with this kind of buzz, they came with 25+ member entourage of friends, amongst them Damien Rice, an old friend from Ireland. On the guest list was famed producer T-Bone Burnett and his wife Callie Khouri, the writer and director who wrote "Thelma and Louise".
T-Bone asked Glen if he'd played in LA before. "Yeah. we'd play at Spaceland and there'd be like five people there. We tried so long to get people to come to our shows and nothing would happen."
Then, the sage, T-Bone laid out how LA works. There's an invisible wall here in LA. Once you get over it, it can be a really warm, luxurious place to be. But until you make it over the wall, it's a very hard and scary place to be.
The two then proceeded to play a very passionate and captivating show, pouring all their emotion on the stage and leaving nothing behind.
I've seen Swell Season perform two more times at McCabe's but that first time was definitely a magical night.