© CPU – Joost Van Hoey
What happened to Damien Rice? That’s the first result Google displays when you enter your search for Rice. We must confess that we have also asked ourselves that question. With only three albums on the counter, of which O dating from 2002, 9 from 2006 and his latest album My Favorite Faded Fantasy which came out in 2014, we can hardly call the Irish singer-songwriter a busy bee, at least not musically. But you can say what you want about Rice, he resolutely goes for quality over quantity. It had been since Cactus Festival 2016 since he stopped in our country. We even have to go two years further in time for his last hall show in the Cirque Royal. The fact that he now opted for the intimacy of a hall show caused the tickets to fly out the door. Those who did not buy their tickets in time were very unlucky and can only hope that they do not go into a long hibernation again after this European tour.
Rice is famous for his aversion to publicity. Like a few before him, to name but a few Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith, he views the music industry as a necessary evil. Fortunately, times have changed. The world Damien Rice first encountered in 2002 is very different from the world today. An authentic musician like Rice can thrive in a climate where the artist is in control. For example, he played improvised performances in European cities without press or announcement. The ideal surprise on the corner for an attentive passerby or for a lonely, bored soul who was suddenly touched by the unexpected beauty. These performances are discovered afterwards by shaky, low-resolution video footage that is posted online. It testifies to a love for music that has become rare in these times. It makes one thing particularly clear: We are ready for Rice’s return.
© CPU – Joost Van Hoey
A few things are different with Damien Rice. Most notable was the absence of Lisa Hannigan: fellow Irish musician and collaborator on his first two albums, one-time girlfriend and eternal muse. Sílvia Pérez Cruz took her place and supported last night’s performance. The Catalan singer with an eerie, powerful voice was the perfect complement to Rice’s. She succeeded in giving a new impetus to those feminine harmonies of his early work. Before that, she was allowed to do her thing solo for half an hour. With a combination of a velvet voice, cinematic and acoustic guitar tones, and a Spanish accent donned over her English bindings, it didn’t take long for Cruz to win over the audience. Her endearing, somewhat clumsy way of communicating aroused a lot of sympathy. For example, after three songs she dared a stunt to get the audience to sing along, in Spanish that is. Hilarity everywhere, but she succeeded. Everyone sang along smoothly with the simple chorus of “Mañana”. As a bouncer, she transformed “Hallelujah” by Lenonard Cohen into her own version. After barely five songs, her half hour was up, but she had still managed to get noticed as an entertainer first class. Rest assured she won some souls for her.
Then Damien took the stage, armed only with his trusty acoustic guitar. With a minimal stage setup, decorated only with two floor lamps, a handful of guitars and a piano, the music would take center stage for nearly two hours. The lights had dimmed and the audience had gone silent after the initial cheers, shouts and whistles, while a hush of expectation settled in the room. Damien Rice has a knack for making the biggest shows seem intimate, like he’s singing just for you. Dressed in a hat, slacks and loose-fitting sweater, his dress code for the evening was as relaxed as he was. From the first notes of the first song “The Professor & La Fille Danse” the performance was filled with emotions and melancholy. The Irish songsmith immediately took the audience in the palm of his hand and held it there throughout the show. We felt in everything Rice did the authenticity that is sometimes missing today. For example, he brought the first part of the show very intimate and acoustic, without too many frills and frills. It wasn’t until he sat down at the piano for a wonderful version of “Accidental Babies” that we realized he could make those emotions cut even deeper. Although he has learned not to sink too deeply into those heavy emotions. For example, after “Accidental Babies” we saw him think to himself for a moment and he returned to his guitar. The new song “I Stepped Out In The Rain” he brought up sounded upbeat by Damien Rice standards. In this way he skillfully defused to fall into too dark feelings.
© CPU – Joost Van Hoey
He smoothly continued on the path he had taken. During “Volcano,” Rice showed himself to be a master conductor by dividing the audience into three sections and having each sing a different part of it during the finale of “Volcano.” Rice had noticed that the audience was in a good voice during the set of Silvia Perez Cruz, who suddenly appeared again. Not to assist the main act, but she was actually allowed to play her own song “Man of the Trees” solo. It was only an introduction to the heavenly duet “9 Crimes”. Cruz and Rice took a cozy seat behind the piano, and dancer and performer Jana Jacuka made her entrance with a subtle play of shadows. It made the beautiful “9 Crimes” even more beautiful. Jacuka turned into a living disco ball during “Astronaut,” while Damien and Silvia rocked the room with an electronic version of the song. Where there was only room for modesty at the beginning of the set, the Stadsschouwburg was gradually transformed into a dance temple. The spectacle of lights and sounds became more and more intense and louder, although Rice never let it derail and returned to its purest form with Cruz and Jacuka: “Cannonball” was performed completely acoustically by the three artists. Simplicity in all its splendour. The audience loved it and treated the trio to a first standing ovation.
The session started with a kind of musical spectacle where the three artists played a scene like shadows to the tune of “Cheers Darlin’”. Unfortunately, the focus was a bit too much on the visual and not on the musical. The singer-songwriter effortlessly rectified this by smoothly transitioning “Cheers Darlin’” into a frightened and furious piano version of “Rootless Tree”. Damien Rice is someone who has already fought countless battles with his demons. For example, he said that he had completely distanced himself from music for a while. He smugly thanked those present for remembering who he is; a unique talent, a modest performer who knows how to involve and inspire his audience like the very greatest. The minor flaw – he forgot the lyrics to his biggest hit “The Blower’s Daughter” for the first time in his career – doesn’t change anything, but nothing at all. It was Damien Rice as he had been all evening and as we like him: understated with pomp and splendor, with only a guitar hitting that perfect chord. That second standing ovation was well deserved.
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