The Stables, Mullingar, 9 June '00
I was trying a while to decide the best way to start this review of Damien Rice's gig in The Stables of Mullingar, and then eventually it came to me. You know how when you hear Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on singing "Love Hurts", your heart melts, and the harmonising stops you dead in your tracks it's so beautiful? Well that's this gig was like. All night long. Just imagine nigh on two hours of this bewitching magic, and you're close to capturing what last Saturday was like. It was, as Damien said, a finish of album celebration, for an album that's not yet finished.
While the split of Damien's previous band Juniper spawned Bell X1 who released 'Man on Mir', Damien has on the other hand been travelling around Europe perfecting the group of songs that will eventually comprise his debut album "O".
And quite a group of songs they are too. Songs such as 'Front Door', 'The Professor', 'The Blower's Daughter', and a sumptuous string-laden (courtesy of David Arnold) 'Amy'. Unfortunately, tonight the CD player that held the 'karaoke' backing tracks for some of the songs was skipping and doing other undesirable things, eventually leading to Damien stopping the CD, grabbing his guitar in the middle of The Blower's Daughter and continuing acoustically.
The two main strengths of Damien are his songwriting talent, and his ability to convey the passion and emotion of his songs to such an extent that, even if they were not fuelled by crises or events in his life, such is his intensity he gives the impression that they were. He lives each song as he sings it, he breathes life into it, and makes it here and now, rather than something that happened in the past. His lyrics oftne fall into that category of 'so obvious you wonder how no-one ever thought of them before'. What comes to mind is the old adage that someone on top of their game can make something that is in reality extremely hard look like the most natural thing in the world. Take for example 'Front Door' with it's refrain of "What is it that happens to me / when you're around?" So simple. So obvious. So beautiful. So true when you're in love.
And then there's his voice. Kittser may beguile you with his hushed tones, Glen Hansard may pull at your heartstrings with his give-it-all delivery, yet Damien can do both of these and, to my (admittedly untrained) ears, soar and hit the high notes like an angel (or to trod down an overused musical path, like Jeff Buckley). Combine that with Lisa's voice?well, you've got something very special.
The only disappointing aspect of the night was the incessant chatter coming from the crowd at the bar, which no amount of shushing would stop, and things began to get out of hand when the original shushers were themselves being shushed. Other than that you came out of the gig with the feeling that this person is going to be huge if (a) he can ever get around to actually finishing the album, and (b) he can create half the same kind of magic on record that he can live.
In the words of the man himself - "cheers..." for an absolutely great night.