Toronto, Ontario • September 11, 2003
If you haven’t yet heard of Damien Rice, get ready, for slowly but surely he is taking over the music world. Case in point was Damien Rice’s performance on September 11 at Toronto’s El Mocambo. This was Damien’s first time in Canada and the show was completely sold out, just like his string of sold out shows across the U.S. and U.K. – not bad for a 26 year old from County Kildare, Ireland.
I had an incredibly hard time writing this review. Damien’s performance was so mind-blowing that I found it difficult to put into words how moving his music and live show is. Damien Rice performs like no other. He is not some man simply playing songs on a stage. No, he is his songs. Every fiber in his body seems to feel emotion and breathe the story that his songs tell. Each song holds a tale of its own, yet they all fit together like pieces of a puzzle to form one underlying story of a man scarred by the loss of his “great love.” Backing Damien were Vyvienne Long on cello, Shane Fitzsimmons on bass, and Tomo on drums. (Lisa Hannigan, who normally shares vocals with Damien, was absent from the show, due to a prior commitment.) Yet, unlike most back-up bands, Vyvienne, Shane, and Tomo all find their place in Damien’s music, making it their own. They are supporting characters in Damien’s story, not merely his back-up musicians. Seeing Damien Rice live is not like going to a normal concert, rather it is comparable to seeing a rock musical. The amount of emotion, elegance, and beauty that Damien, Vyvienne, Shane and Tomo display on stage is closer to actors playing a role than musicians, except they aren’t actors, their feelings are real.
Damien Rice’s live performance is a complicated one. In addition to regular microphones and pedals, Damien makes use of several other interesting contraptions like a distorted/effect microphone alters Damien’s voice to make him sound like an old record on one song and like he is exploding on another, and a Line 6 pedal which records what Damien sings or plays on guitar and then replays it on a loop, giving the effect of a dozen Damiens (ahh if only it were true and not just an effect!).
Damien delighted the audience by playing almost every track off his debut album O, including extended versions of “Eskimo”, “I Remember”, “Cannonball”, “Amie”, and “Volcano”. Additionally, Damien played new songs, as well as several b-sides, namely “Professor”, “Childish”, and “Woman Like a Man”. The 3 new tracks that Damien played were similar in fashion to the songs on O, but slightly more aggressive. If they are any hint of what to expect from his new album, then fans will surely be more than happy.
More than anything, what really struck me about the show was the way the band members were totally in synch with one another. In fact, a set list was not even used. Instead, the band relied on cues from Damien or requests from the audience. The band had just flown in from Ireland 2 days before and were still feeling the effects of jet lag. Half way through the 150 minute concert, Damien stated he was exhausted and had no idea what song to play next, asking the audience for requests. By far the best and most original of the night was a group of Irish audience members’ request for “Lisdoonvarna”, a “modern traditional” Irish song. (Lisdoonvarna is a town in County Clare that hosts a yearly matchmaking festival. Twenty years ago a large concert was held there as well. “Lisdoonvarna”, written by Christy Moore, was the festival’s theme song.) My friend, who came to the concert with me, absolutely loves it when artists do cover songs. You can be sure that she was in sheer bliss with Damien Rice who whipped out more than a couple covers. Included among them was Vyvienne’s interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” played solely on cello, Damien’s blend of his own “Cannonball” with David Gray’s “Babylon”, and perhaps the best of all was a final collaboration between Damien and opening act, Pedestrian, of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. I don’t believe cover songs have ever sounded this good.
Topping off at about 5 foot 7 and roughly 120 pounds, Damien Rice does not look like a rockstar, nor does he act like one. He appears modest and down-to-earth. Instead of pumping his audience with carefully deliberated words of praise, he prefers to tell stories in between songs, stories that relate to the music and link the songs to his life. Damien Rice has clearly taken the art of song and lyric writing back to their purest form – storytelling.
All these elements combined make Damien Rice accessible and identifiable. Never before have I seen individuals relate to one man or his music in such a fashion that Damien’s fans do. Men, women, boys, girls, young, and old all seem to love Damien Rice. His fans feel for him, they understand him and his stories, but most importantly, his music. Fans feel so connected and familiar with Damien that most (including myself) refer to him on a first name basis. Some even go so far as to call him “my Damien”. Damien Rice doesn’t hide his emotions behind metaphors or allegories, he is upfront and honest, but never sappy or whiny. Where other emotionally charged bands, like Dashboard Confessional or Bright Eyes have angst and self-deprecation, Damien Rice has elegance and understanding. As a result, Damien’s fans feel connected to him and his music because they can sympathize and understand him. Likewise, Damien is in touch with his fans and plays off of them. For instance, before the show started , I caught Damien out in the audience getting a “vibe for the crowd”. Naturally, Damien was approached by several fans and graciously took the time to speak to each one.
Damien Rice is the kind of man you could take home to your mother. He is also the kid of man that musicians look up to in admiration. Damien Rice has become unstoppable and the buzz surrounding him is endless. He is the most talented musician in the music world today. I have been going to concerts for many years now and have seen countless bands. Still, I can safely and wholeheartedly say that Damien Rice has surpassed each and everyone of one of them. “My Damien” is a musical messiah.
Damien Rice: http://www.damienrice.com