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last night's gig

In the Flesh, Swell Season — the Band From ‘Once’ — As Sexually Tense You’d Imagine

Irglova, strategically placed guitar, Hansard.

Last night at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield, Swell Season — the band made up of the two stars of the 2007 indie musical sensation Once — almost blew their wad immediately. After opening with an acoustic, blessedly foghorn-free cover of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova went right into their own "I Will Always Love You," performing their Oscar-winning duet "Falling Slowly." Hansard, playing guitar, sidled up to Irglova on the piano bench, and they sang their heartbreaking anthem close enough to make out. Just like in the film, they resisted the urge. Yet their voices — his throat-ripping Joe Cocker lament, her vaguely Eastern European whisper — bubbled with the same uncanny chemistry. Was it already time to go home and cry ourselves to sleep? But Once's sweeping pop-folk soundtrack is much more than its famous single, and the evening was carried by songs to distract us from financial apocalypse and Sarah Palin. Despite the wistful music, Hansard was funny as hell, exhorting the audience to sing along and telling stories to put Harry Chapin to shame: Their band doesn't have a drummer because theirs got diverted to Italy, then got married; someone recently approached Hansard for an autograph, explaining, "It's for my friend. She thinks you're great. She's dead deaf."

Photo: Alia Kahan