Review of Damien Rice in Whelan's, Dublin
There was a great deal of excitement last week when Damien Rice announced this comeback Irish show – his first time to headline a gig in Dublin in seven years.
Ostensibly a thank you to Whelan's – which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – it's also an opportunity for the man from Celbridge, Co Kildare, to showcase material from a new album due for release in the autumn.
It says something about Rice's standing in the Irish music firmament that Whelan's closed the bar on his request for the show's entire two-and-a-half-hour duration. The result is an atmosphere that is near reverential – and there's a hushed silence for the night's especially quiet moments.
The aptly named 'Delicate' gets proceedings under way. Virtually every song features Rice and the same acoustic guitar. A percussionist does sit in the shadows on some songs, but his barely there accompaniment only fleetingly registers. Both of his two albums – O and 9 – get a thorough airing with '9 Crimes', the opening song from the latter album, providing an early highlight.
Wisely, Rice (right) avoids a monotonous tone by mixing up more playful songs, with more subdued ballads. A case in point is provided by his carnally inspired 'Woman Like A Man', which sees him rocking out with abandon, and the haunting 'Eskimo', in which he sings in both English and a Nordic-sounding language. "That's Icelandic," one punter loudly says to her friend. One can only take her word for it.
While Rice rolls back the years in fine fashion – and offers a reminder of his rare gifts at several turns – there is no shortage of moments that fall headlong into self-indulgence territory. 'The Professor' drags on way too long, while a version of the evergreen trad song 'Black is the Colour' feels cobbled on needlessly.
There is a lovely moment late on in which two women in the audience gamely agree to help Rice in the singing of 'Cold Water'. They do a decent job although it's a reminder of the qualities Rice's ex-girlfriend and bandmate, Lisa Hannigan, used to bring to his music. She's especially missed on his signature song, 'The Blower's Daughter'.
Of the handful of new songs played, 'The Box' stands out most. Striking and raw, he says it's about the "dickhead he sees in the mirror". It's not the only time he proffers self-critical opinions and, on the evidence of tonight, it's likely that the as-yet-untitled forthcoming album will feature quite a bit of naval-gazing.
But few are bothered by such a charge when he delivers a song as beautiful as 'Cannonball' or a cover as memorable as Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'.