Damien Rice, the iconic Irish folk singer/songwriter, played an emotive and intimate set at the Congregation Sherith Israel before releasing his first record in seven years, My Favourite Faded Fantasy.
People slowly trickled in, filling the pews of the synagogue with their eyes fixated on an alter that was accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a couple guitar amps, a piano and a small table with a bottle of wine and two empty glasses. Excitement was evident as people chatted about the uniqueness of the venue, a Jewish synagogue that rarely has such artists as Damien Rice bless its confines.
On his modest, two-month tour, Rice is playing seemingly handpicked venues like churches, music halls and small theaters. With few appearances over the past few years, some fans couldn’t help but speculate about the enigmatic singer, wondering if he converted to Judaism, became sober, or was going to censor his set.
The lights went down and a halo illuminated the stage. Rice grabbed his guitar and immediately plunged into an entirely acoustic version of “Eskimo.” Without amplification, his voice filled the church like gospel and the rapture of Damien Rice had begun. After a loud applaud, he plugged in and followed with the tune, “Delicate,” from his 2002 debut album O.
His environment was greatly conducive to his heart wrenching songs, hinging on confessions that plead for answers. His sound was pure and uncompromised by the absence of a backing band, strings or Lisa Hannigan. During the song, “Elephant,” Rice used distortion to empower and punctuate his emotions, and followed by playing the ballad, “9 Crimes,” on the piano, demonstrating his wide array of musical talents. His set flawlessly gravitated from one song to the next with impassioned turbulence.
For a tour that may have been meant to expose his new music, he mainly played older songs. Throughout the set Rice’s personality and humor revealed itself, becoming more vulnerable and chatty and encasing a closeness to his audience. After a new track, “The Greatest Bastard,” Rice joked that it was about “sperm.” This cracked the tension and fans started shouting their requests before he played “Grey Room.”
The greatest moments of the show came near the end of his set, during the widely popular hit, “Volcano.” At the end of the song, Rice had members of the audience form a choir on stage. One half of the them sang, “Volcanos melt me down” while the others sang, “What I am to you, is not real. What I am to you, you do not need.” With the members still on stage Rice slowly faded into Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on the guitar while singing the lyrics to Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Rice left the stage shaking hands and leaving everyone in awe.
For his encore, Rice once again stunned the audience with his antics. After playing the song, “The Blowers Daughter,” he asked, “is there anyone who isn’t driving home after the show that would like to drink some wine?” After a minute of debacle, a woman was brought up on the stage and Rice reenacted the inspiration for the song, “Cheers Darlin’” Pouring glass after glass of wine while explaining the details of this particular night.
He had met a woman, a stranger, and had conversation over loads of wine. They soon found out they lived next to each other and happened to have fatefully missed their bus. The jovial Rice scooted closer and closer to the woman on stage, who was visibly affected, and finished off the first bottle of wine while Rice motioned for a second bottle. As he carried on with the story, he proposed a question to the proverbial woman, exposing the unfortunate detail that she had a boyfriend. In dramatic fashion, Rice swaggered and swayed towards the piano, and played the song “Accidental Babies” on the piano. Rice closed out his set with the tune, “Cannonball,” epitomizing the soul of his tortured music, quietly singing his last line of the night, “it’s not hard to grow, when you know that you just don’t know.”
Woman Like A Man
The Greatest Bastard
When Doves Cry
The Blower’s Daughter