A great show is supposed to bring the crowd to its feet, not the band to its knees. But you can hardly blame the six members of the Frames for taking a load off near the end of Wednesday's show at the Theatre of Living Arts. Two and a half hours of ripping your heart out of your chest can leave you a little spent.

A classic Irish romantic, lead singer Glen Hansard sings about love that's always being lost or barely saved from disaster. As the soaring "Falling Slowly" puts it: "Take this sinking boat and point it home. We've still got time."

With songs based on a familiar whisper-to-a-scream template, the Frames sound something like the Pixies would if they had a fiddle player and Frank Black put his emotions where his Dalí references are.

At worst, as on "The Cost," the dynamic shifts are mechanical and overwrought. But as Hansard screamed his way through the climax of "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops," his voice fighting through a wall of guitar noise, he sounded like the last of the true believers, hanging on to hope despite all evidence to the contrary.

Tortured persona notwithstanding, Hansard is a voluble stage presence, almost to the point of subverting his own songs. During "Revelate," a fierce, storming number about romantic desperation, he danced an embryonic jig and mimed playing the back side of his guitar. But you can't argue with his showmanship. As the clock neared midnight, the crowd pressed closer to the stage rather than drifting away. One awed concertgoer could be heard proclaiming the Frames his new favorite live band, better even than Radiohead. (He meant it as a compliment.)

The Frames have no trouble converting audiences with their passionate live shows. The trouble is getting bodies in the pews. But with Hansard's starring movie role in the Sundance crowd favorite Once (opening here May 25), they may be finally getting the shot at the mainstream they so richly deserve. Next time, they'll have to bring their easy chairs.