Sunday, December 10, 2006

damien rice concert review: not so delicate

Since I have already received a few unsolicited requests for my thoughts on the Damien Rice concert, I thought it best to post my review.

First of all, it would seem to me that a Damien Rice concert is no place for a passive Damien Rice fan. If you're the kind of "fan" that likes to listen to "Delicate" and "Blower's Daughter" on your iPod nano while sitting in the basement of the library studying for your Poli Sci final, then seeing Rice live is not for you. Perhaps you would be happier at an All-American Rejects concert. Or maybe Teddy Geiger.

It's like I told The Fleeg - you have to feel Damien Rice. If you feel every note of melancholy, anguish and bi-polarism, then you should feel right at home.

The first thing that struck me about the concert was the sound quality. Most concerts seem just slightly too loud to be comfortable, like when I saw Mute Math and the time I um, saw MC Hammer (circa 1991). Maybe it had more to do with the venue (Orpheum Theatre), but it was more like a Damien Rice symphony. Even the loud and screamy parts like in "I Remember" remained acoustically comfortable without sacrificing intensity, and the bass was full and devoid of any perceptible distortion. Sigur Ros could take a few lesson's from Rice's sound team for their live performance of "Glosoli".

The second thing that struck me was the intensity and energy put in the performance. I honestly expected a Damien Rice concert to be a low-key affair - just Damien, I dunno... sitting on a stool or something and strumming wistfully. Not so much. The performances of "Woman Like a Man" and "Me, My Yoke, and I" were nothing short of a full-blown rock concert. The encore of "I Remember" was even more dramatic, with Damien looping lines of distorted vocals in rounds while every member of the band took a bow and departed the stage separately - in the end leaving only Damien's voice looping over a dark and empty stage.

The third thing that struck me is that Damien Rice is a strange man.

Before "Woman Like a Man", he pulled out a birthday present given to him by Glen Hansard, frontman for The Frames and half of The Swell Season, a piano/guitar duo that opened for Rice. The present? A Mexican wrestler mask. Shiny red and yellow. He puts the thing on and starts playing. He plays the entire song. Wearing a Mexican wrestler mask. And the crazy thing is - the performance was so mind-blowing, I pretty much forgot he was wearing it.

It got a little stranger in the first verse of "The Animals Were Gone", when he just stopped playing, uttered a curse word, and stood there - head hanging silently...

And everyone in the audience is thinking the same thing: "Well, I'd like to hear the rest of the concert, but it would be cool to say I was at the show where Damien Rice finally lost it."

So he walks off stage. The cellist plays a strange song about a man standing in the middle of the highway. Cute. But weird. And made no less weird by the context.

Then Damien comes back out with a small mug, presumably of tea or coffee or something, and picks up his guitar

"I'm like a f*ing horse up here - about to fall asleep while standing up. So I drank some saki."

Ok, so maybe it's not tea. On with the show. And a fantastic show it was. I can't recall the exact setlist, but there was the obligatory "Blower's Daughter", "Cannonball", and "Volcano". There was also an impressive "Grey Room", a somewhat standard "Elephant", a haunting "Accidental Babies", and a toned-down piano-driven rendition of "Rootless Tree". Which was nice, but I really reeeaaally like that song in its expressive album form.

I was enraptured by the entire affair. Even the venue was fabulous - lavish, spacious and comfortable. I loved it even though of my three favorite Damien Rice songs, one was greatly compromised, and the other two ("Cold Water" and "Coconut Skins") were no-shows.

And here is something else I told The Fleeg, who was considering buying a ticket to a New York show off eBay: "It's worth that much just to see The Swell Season".

Yes, The Swell Season. In. Credible. I could write 8 posts about how much I loved The Swell Season. But I won't. It's available on iTunes.