Damien Rice & Special Guests
Review of his gig in Vicar Street, 23rd November 2001
It was always going to be a good gig. It turned out to be spectacular. On Friday 23rd November Dublin-based singer/songwriter Damien Rice gave by far his best performance to date from the stage at Vicar Street.
Although the doors opened an hour later than expected, the wait in the cold was more than worth it. What followed was an epic five hour long marathon of music and emotion. It was to be Rice's first gig in Vicar St, and no doubt he was nervous that, while he was able to sell out places like Whelan's with ease, this venue would prove harder to fill. It didn't. The place was packed. When all the seats on the ground and in the balconies were filled, people crowed to sit on steps and stand along the back walls. The Frames could not have hoped for better turnout.
Three support acts, of vastly differing quality, warmed up the crowd. The first, while people were still taking their seats, heading to the bar and generally bustling around, was Padraig Digan of the band Walmark. A native of Birr, Digan has in the past opened for the likes of Damien, Mundy and the sadly recently deceased Mic Christopher among others. He's good and solid, but not amazing. This particular night was perhaps not the best I've seen him. The crowd were still getting settled and most of them had probably never seen him before. He sang low and a little uncertainly, maybe daunted by the size of the audience. Padraig Digan organises and performs at an acoustic music night upstairs in the Ha'penny Bridge Inn on Monday nights, an excellent and intimate venue to listen to some of Dublin's rising talents.
Next to take to the stage were the Mexican duoRodrigo y Gabriela. You've probably seen these two guitarists busking on Grafton Street. If you have, then you'll know how difficult it is to convey their brilliance in words. I'll admit that before I saw them my only previous knowledge of Mexican guitar music was based largely on Antonio Banderas in Desperado, and I wasn't too impressed. Rodrigo and Gabriela changed all that though. Their fingers became whizzing blurs as they plucked strings in perfect and astounding unison. As soon as they started the crowd sat in awe, and I know my jaw had actually dropped. They used their guitars like I've never seen before, tapping and thumping every part of them to create mesmeric beats to accompany their lyric-less pieces. Playing instrumentals of everything from captivating Mexican ballads to raging Metallica, it was impossible to imagine how the third support act, Nina Hynes, would follow them successfully.
She didn't. As quickly as Rodrigoy Gabriela had captivated the audience, Nina lost it. People began chatting, laughing (or perhaps sniggering), and moving about again, at time drowning out Nina's voice. This was not a bad thing. Her voice was fine, even angelic, when she sang low notes, but when she attempted to reach high the audience visibly winced as when nails are scratched down a blackboard. I heard several unfortunates moan "Oh God!" loudly and slump in their seats. Now, Nina Hynes has enjoyed no small measure of success, playing in Paris, doing successful North American tours, performing alongside such greats as Christy Moore, Paddy Casey andGlen Hansard, and having several releases under her belt, so maybe she's actually good. After all, following Rodrigo y Gabriela would be most performers' nightmare. And apart from her lyrics, her backing band, her voice and timid attempts at audience interaction, I suppose she was. Enough said.
The cynic in me would put to you that Nina Hynes was strategically placed between the Mexicans and Damien so that when Mr. Rice finally came to the stage he appeared as a saviour greeted by a thunderous applause. He launched straight into a fantastic version of his crowd pleaser "The Professor", a song with humorous ("Here's to another relationship bombed by my excellent breed of gamete disease") and often very risqu?(This is a family paper) English lyrics and a last verse sung beautifully in lilting perfect French. As the audience were singing happily along, Damien surprised us all by changing the French verse and making it twice as long as usual. This was to be the first in a night full of pleasant surprises.
Damien Rice is a perfectionist in everything he does. Anyone who regularly goes to his gigs would know this because, for example, he had an "album completion" celebratory gig earlier in the year, and the album is still not yet completed. This perfectionism creates a very natural feel to his painstakingly crafted songs, making them feel like the easiest things in the world to create. Songs like "Front Door", "Amie" and his recently released single "The Blower's Daughter" (voted the single of the week by 2FM and single of the month by Hot Press) are breathed into life by his passion and intensity on the stage. Add to his amazing voice and guitar the voice of Lisa Hannigan, bass of Shane Fitzsimons, drums by the charismatic audience favourite Tomo, a haunting cello and you've got something special.
Then for good measure also throw in (towards the end of the gig) two more drum kits, two more guitarists, a saxophone player, a third vocalist and Rodrigo and Gabriela and you've transcended "special" and reached a whole new level. There was a chance that with so many musicians joining Damien onstage his songs would degenerate into a mash of uncoordinated confusing and unrelated sounds, but it turned out amazing, moving and powerful.
The night was tinged with a sadness however, as Mic Christopher, a popular performer known personally by all on stage and many in the audience, was lying in a coma in an Amsterdam hospital after a fall in his hotel. At times when speaking of his friend, Damien's voice broke and he choked back tears, wrenching his face away from the microphone and launching into blistering guitar riffs with his head hung low and away from the audience. A hat was passed around the venue and ?1700 was raised to help Mic's family stay by his side in Amsterdam. The following Wednesday a hastily organised fund raising gig was held in Vicar Street with, among many more, the Frames, BellX1 and Mundy, while Damien and Lisa flew to Amsterdam to see Mic. It ended tragically however when, the next day, it was decided to turn off his life-support machine and he Mic passed away.
The events of that week are summed up best in Damien's own words written shortly after Mic passed away: "On the evening of Wednesday 28th November 2001, after saying goodnight to Mic, I returned to the hotel. A peace came into me in that time and a strange feeling that Mic wasn't with us (in the Netherlands that is) .. I think he went home for the gig in Vicar Street. Lisa and I returned to the hospital the next morning to hear they would be turning off the machines that day. Sadness poured in. Yet, in the last few moments where I was saying goodbye, I could see him with his feet in the water of a very cool stream in a very large open field with blue sky, little white clouds, warm breeze, and one big tree upon whose roots Mic Christopher was sat..."
To buy a copy of Damien
Rice's album 'O' on Amazon just click here.
Check out theCLUAS review of Danien's album'O'
Check out a CLUAS interview with Damien Rice
Damien Rice was voted 'Most Outstanding New Artist' in the 2001 CLUAS Readers' Poll