Sean Rowe and Marketa Irglova

My friend and I had our butts grabbed at by a homeless woman last night as we made our way down O'Farrell St. to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

Terrified, and from the suburbs, we hastened our pace as we passed strip clubs, pay-by-the-hour motels, and drug deals in action. This homeless woman, who looked much like a grown-up female version of Buckwheat from Little Rascals, kept up with us as we tried to lose her without committing to an all-out sprint for our lives. 

"You like art!?" she asked. "Hey! Look at me when I'm talking to you!" She grabbed me by the shoulder and shoved her face into mine, "I loooove you," she assured me. 

I wasn't convinced she was really "the one," so we bid her a good night and hurried along. We retreated into the music hall and were instantly comforted by its ornate beauty. The world inside of that building couldn't be more opposite than the cold street life we had just escaped. And it was only about to get better.  

Marketa Irglova (of The Swell Season and the indie movie Once) was headlining the night--her name alone displayed across the marquee outside the theater. However, as far as I'm concerned, the night belonged to her opening act Sean Rowe. He took the stage and instantly won over the audience with songs of deep, growling heartache. 

He sang like a gentle beast, strong yet worn by the things he has seen in life, eager to tell a story with poetic imagery and pulsing rhythm. He thumped his guitar with his palm as he strummed, creating a constant, soothing boom. The audience nodded in agreement with each thud and silently waited for him to reveal the next lyric. These lyrics could stand alone like written art as stories unto themselves. I couldn't help but hold my breath as long as I could bear it just to give full attention to the song he was singing. Judging by the silence in the hall, I'm assuming others felt the same way. 

"…your ghost could only brush against my t-shirt, now your body shows up to take it off." 

Since I paid to see a live experience, I avoided watching him perform through the small screen on my camera, but I did manage to capture one of his renditions of a Tom Waits song:

I wish I would have captured more of his set, but it probably wouldn't have been done justice. In fact, I know it wouldn't have been the same. You really must see this man perform in a live setting. His album is very good, but there is a depth of emotion that does not translate through his recordings the way his songs do live.

And then, of course, there was Marketa Irglova. The main event. I experienced a very brief moment of celebrity shock when she spoke for the first time and I recalled some of her lines from Once. She is incredibly talented, obviously, but her set had an amateurish vibe compared to the raw, melancholic honesty Sean Rowe had released into that hall. Don't get me wrong, I love Marketa's music, and believe that she is going to release more musical gold in the years to come, but I just wasn't as convinced by her performance as I was by Rowe. 

One of the highlights of Marketa's set, however, was her bodhran player and back-up singer Ida. She played this shallow frame drum--once played by women on the Emerald Isle in support of their warrior men rushing into battle. It's percussive slaps and shimmers were the only thing that added much intensity and energy to the set.

For a complete list of Sean Rowe and Marketa's US tour dates click HERE.

...ramble on...

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