Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice has always puzzled me with his incredibly intimate and almost embarrassingly straightforward yet poetic lyrics. His music is a big collection of moody love songs; however, it could also be described as indie folk produced by a sensitive guy with an acoustic guitar between his hands.
I have always associated Rice with a deep sense of melancholy, joking that I could only put on one of his records if I was already in a good mood; otherwise, his soft-spoken, dramatic tracks would crush my soul completely. After years of only passively listening to his music, I was able to check it out in a live setting.
What I experienced was surprisingly different from what I had initially anticipated.
Walking in to Congregation Sherith Israel this Tuesday felt rather majestic for a girl who had never before set foot in a synagogue. Its astonishing acoustics did wonders for its soloist that evening, who was performing with only a guitar to supplement his performance. Despite the large attendance, the audience was one of the most quiet audiences of any show to which I have ever been. There were no distractions — only yourself and a fragile, uncompromising feeling.
After playing a few songs, Rice asked if it was possible to turn the lights off at the back. When he wrapped up the song “Elephant”, the room was filled with complete darkness with the exception of altar lights and one single spotlight on Rice himself. Sitting at the piano, Rice prefaced the next song with a brief digression about his newly finished third studio album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy: “It’s not that it is not serious, because it is. But it is like those times when something is so horrible that you just have to start laughing”.
During the transition into the next song, he jokingly blamed everything on sperm. “There is just too much of it. What are you going to do with it”? Then he lightheartedly reassured the audience that sperm is a good thing, considering none of us would be here today without it. After this digression, he began to sing about how “loving is fine, when you have plenty of time.”
Rice gave the audience goosebumps during “Rootless Tree;” you could have heard a needle fall if it were not for the Victorian carpets. The show continued with an interactive version of “Volcano” during which Rice invited anyone who believed he or she could sing to the stage. It was then that fans, previously silent, literally ran up the aisles to fill the halls with surprisingly concordant and harmonic sounds.
After finishing his set, Rice was brought back by a standing ovation.
He returned with another anecdote: “Is there anyone here who likes wine?” A woman was selected to step onstage, and while Rice amusingly revealed the story behind his next song “Accidental Babies,“ he and the lucky audience member emptied a bottle of red wine eagerly and impressively fast. Even for an Irish fellow like himself, three minutes seemed kind of rough for half a bottle of wine.
During “Cannonball,” I was fortunate enough that the lovebirds around me learned to kiss soundlessly as to not ruin this delicate moment.
Damien Rice was as stripped down as always, but there was definitely more to him than the moody and selfish picture portrayed by his broody love songs. Quite honestly, it had been a long time since I laughed this much at a concert.
Rice, at his core, is more than just a gifted singer. He is a blatantly artistic, surprisingly amusing, and witty performer. Although his show was both emotional and soulful, there is also a valuable layer of comic relief to diffuse an otherwise mellow, smooth set. The result is a personally redefined and stronger relationship to an artist who defined much of my late teenage years.
Article by Ane Skjølaas