The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

22

Have you had a musical experience that, over time, has festered in your mind until you reach a point where what you feel now is much more intense than what you felt at the time?

 

Well, let’s talk about Damien Rice’s show at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, last month. Having had mixed Rice live experiences in the past, I was wary of his mood. On occasion, he can be a storyteller, an engager. On others he can be sullen and dismissive. But seldom, if ever, has an artist shown such disregard for his audience as Rice did that night in Sydney. He was surly, he turned his back to us. He refused completely to engage. His band played with a kind of cautious acceptance, reverentially bowing their heads at the appropriate times as if to let him know that they understand. The show only sparked to life when the band played a glorious Cold Water in near total darkness. How pleasurable it was to not have to look at him! When Rice had left the stage, Vivienne Long gently taunted him by pretending that he was the devil. The tension lifted, albeit briefly. He returned for the encore, a still prickly yet warmer set of songs that teased the audience by hinting at how good the show could have been.

 

           Separated at birth, according to Vivienne Long...

Now weeks later, when I reflect on the show  I feel a kind of bilious frustration. I’ll never see him again, I threaten. He’s lost me this time, I moan. Surely he knew that there were paying customers out there who would go home unsatisfied. This clearly wilful antagonism has got me thinking about what constitutes a great gig. I filtered through the live experiences that have stayed with me through the years. Is there a common theme? The Flaming Lips at Hammersmith Apollo, Sufjan Stevens (download some live Sufjan tracks here) at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Stones in the Olympic Stadium Barcelona, Solomon Burke at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Eels at the Metro Sydney, Gillian Welch Shepherd's Bush. Great gigs, great songs played with exuberance and not a little showmanship. Ray laMontagne, Richard Swift, Antony Hegarty – performers crippled by shyness and depression yet capable of transcending their vices to connect and thrill. Then there's Sleepy Jackson, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Ryan Adams - live performers of huge potential let down by egotism and negativity. Yet still those were memorable gigs, for the wrong reasons of course.

 

Rice can polarise an audience (like Adams) – the same show can inspire reverence and despair in equal measure, as can be seen by trawling the message boards of his website. My feeling is that he loves his songs, not his audience. He expects his audience to expend significant effort to listen - his band's reverential poses challenge us to bow our heads, to copy their body language, to succumb. He doesn’t want to earn our approval or acclaim. He doesn't seem to care. Indifference or perceived slights by his paying fans are met with overt resentment and not a little anger. Possibly this anger (immaturity?) is what drives him.

What is clear is that this challenging Irish performer can be even more intriguing on the nights he misses than on those he hits.


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Nuggets from our archive

2001 - Early career profile of Damien Rice, written by Sinead Ward. This insightful profile was written before Damien broke internationally with the release of his debut album 'O'. This profile continues to attract hundreds of visits every month, it being linked to from Damien Rice's Wikipedia page.