It was the kind of show to make your heart skip, as mine did the entire two-hour set Monday night. It’s not that I’m female that I had this knocking-at-my-heart-knocky-knees type of reaction—a baritone male voice a few rows behind me lumber-jacked out “I LOVE YOU DAMIEN” after each song. I had a hankering the entire crowd that filled the sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City had everything to do with the man of the night, Damien Rice.
I admit I went into Radio City expecting a generic, washed-down Rice. I saw him at a much smaller, less touristy venue months earlier, which proved to be one of those concerts permanently seared in your memory, like that first concert you ever attended is and will always be. Damien Rice again proved his talent as singer/songwriter/guitarist to engage each person attending, regardless of the size of the mass—he gave a shout-out to the three balcony levels midway through the show, telling them he hopes they’re all having a good time. They were, and their screams and squeals let him know it.
Rice played a diverse set that revealed his showmanship—playful, fully confidant sans ego, and a little bit quirky. He included the obvious in his extensive repertoire of acoustic ballads, playing “Cannonball,” “Delicate,” and “Accidental Babies” solo or unplugged. Rice’s accompanying members, a cellist, drummer, bassist, and guitarist made his angrier, more angst-driven songs a strong foil to his melancholic love songs. The Village Voice said about his 2003 album, 0, “Damien Rice’s songs are so naked emotionally that even listening is akin to eavesdropping on a bad breakup.” Rice’s set on Monday night proved the completeness of his emotions; it’s as if you, yourself had literally fallen in and out of love along with him.
The one thing missing from his show was his longtime back-up singer, Lisa Hannigan. Her ethereal, almost haunting voice provides a balance to his, which was lacking at the Monday show. As Rice told the audience when they asked—and they asked throughout the show—that Hannigan is back in Ireland (the band’s native homeland) recording her own album. Rice included in his encore a song Hannigan had written for Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist who was unjustly imprisoned by the dictatorship of Burma after having been elected leader of the country by the populace. Damien Rice and his band are activists and environmentalists, and much of their mission is spreading global awareness; they routinely play video segments about human rights and global warming at their concerts.
Whether a seasoned vet of Damien Rice or a novice to his music, download either of his best albums: 2003’s O or 2006’s 9. If you are returning to his music, that second (or in my case thirtieth) go-around opens up his lyrics and musical talent in an entirely new way. That’s the genius of Damien Rice: he is utterly transformative. His music transcends venue, audience, and emotion. If you’re on the top of the world: listen to him. If you’re down in the doldrums: listen to him. Check out the two albums on Rhapsody. Posted by Kiki Namikas.
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