When I told a friend I was going to see Damien Rice, I got a curious look. Damien Rice is most well known for his melancholic, sad folk-rock music, primarily off of his 2002 debut album O and his follow-up in 2006, 9. So, the association goes that unless you are feeling down or have been recently cheated on or dumped, why would you go and listen to 2 hours of sad music? Well, I (and presumably other Damien Rice fans) find Rice’s music is captivating. His delicate, whispery vocals are mesmerizing, and when coupled with an acoustic guitar and reflections on love, romance and inner turmoil, how can one go wrong? Needless to say, I’ve had ‘O’ and ‘9’ on repeat for years and I never tire of his sound. It has now been 12 years since ‘O’ was released and 8 since the album ‘9.’ In these last 8 years, the music world has not heard or seen much of Damien Rice- this has felt like an eternity to me. When I think back on what my life was like in 2002, when I carried his CD around highschool and then university campus in my Discman, well, a lot has changed since then. Given his lack of touring and producing new music over most of the last decade, he has been on my ‘bucket list’ of artists to see for many many years and I often doubted that I would ever get the opportunity. Thankfully, Rice finally released his third studio album in November 2014, My Favourite Faded Fantasy. New album = new world tour and finally, a chance to see him play live.
As I made my way into the venue, I sought out the merch table. It was located downstairs near the bathrooms, which I thought was a bit of an odd spot. There wasn’t much to be had aside from a couple tote bags and a pile of CDs. I was really hoping to nab his new album on vinyl but alas, amazon it will have to be! I made my way to my seat a few minutes before he was scheduled to be on. As I sat there for the first time in the infamous Massey Hall, soaking in the atmosphere of this old theatre, I was teeming with anticipation. It was a little bit odd to find myself sitting next to a woman who I am guessing was a reviewer. She had pen and paper at the ready and reading glasses in hand (which she continually put on and off every time she scribbled down a note). I am not sure why but the studiousness with which she was reviewing the show made me feel somewhat inadequate or amateur. Another thing that felt a bit off was the presence of ushers. It seemed like I was at Les Miserable or some sort of sophisticated theatrical play rather than a concert. Finally, the lights dimmed and my strange surroundings faded into the background.
In a shroud of smoke and darkness, illuminated by a single light, there was Damien Rice, unamplified standing at the end edge of the stage. Yes, Rice opened the show by singing into Massey Hall instead of the mic- it was just him, his guitar and vocal chords. It was absolute magic. I have seen artists play songs unamplified for encores but never as the opening song. It was a unique choice, one that had people hushed, silent and hooked on his every word. I appreciated the ushers for having the latecomers wait to be seated so I could enjoy that song & moment distraction free. I was pleasantly surprised by Rice’s interactions with the audience. In the end I wasn’t sure if I had gone to a concert or comedy show. He jested with the audience – commenting on how often people were getting up to ‘piss,’ telling anecdotes about growing up in Ireland, religion, and reflections on guilt and relationships. At one point he told us “I don’t feel like playing, I feel like talking” and later made light of the fact that he was playing a series of more mad songs, pausing once to also consider what the saddest song he could think of to play. He mixed in new songs with crowd favourites including Volcano, Blowers Daughter and Cannonball. All in all it was a wonderful night experiencing Massey Hall, Damien Rice and having a good many laughs along the way too. He ended the night offering to play at someone’s house however, unfortunately, no one accepted.
New Album Essential Tracks: “My Favourite Faded Fantasy”, “Long Long Way”, and “The Box”