Record label: Damien Rice with special guest: The Frames
Genre(s): Country Western
Tormented Soul, Tormented Audience
by: bill aicher
On his 2003 debut, Damien Rice delivered a collection of ten extremely heartfelt, low-key masterpieces. O managed to find its way on to a bevy of year-end top ten lists, including ours, even though it was an album to be taken in small doses; it was an album you could only listen to at certain times when you were emotionally prepared for it. Through its success, Damien Rice found himself nestled amongst the singer-songwriter crowd as one of its quietist, albeit respected voices.
Given his recent performance at Madison's Barrymore Theatre (his other recent performances tend to follow this same trend, I'm told), Rice's position may be in for quite a change. In what became the norm for the night, Rice nearly abandoned his "songwriter-lite" image by indulging in his recent notion that songs are much more meaningful when they end in screaming fits.
Songs like "The Blower's Daughter" and "Amie," both relatively lightweight but powerful fare from O, opened to tremendous response from the sold-out crowd. But as each of these songs (and every other one, for that matter) progressed, they built into full-blown fits of screams and ear-splitting guitar. This, along with an instance where the final lyrics from "The Blower's Daughter" were sampled, and then endlessly repeated, then sung over out of key, and sampled, and repeated, and were further joined by off-key noise from his guitar, and sampled, and turned up to painful volumes sent Rice into territory where the audience was noticeably turned off and confused. Whether it was equipment malfunction, or purposeful manipulation, or a combination of the two remains unknown. It was evident at this point, however, that Rice harbored some notion of himself as a damaged artist.
And honestly, it was around this part of the show (only about three songs in actually), that I began to question just what Rice was trying to accomplish and why I even bothered sticking around. Yet, after a remarkably odd experience with "Amie" where Rice felt it necessary to sit on the ground, look up to the sparkling lights on the ceiling (spotlight focuses on him) and contemplate whatever it was he was contemplating while doing some sort of synthesized space-ship landing sequence, it became evident that Rice is no longer in the same mindset he was in when he first recorded O.
Still, not all was disheartening on this Wednesday night. Lisa Hannigan's backing vocals were tremendously powerful (although it was clear even she had no idea how to respond to Rice's slow downward spiral from a drummer vs. guitar percussion contest that turned into an oddly pathetic beatboxing bout from Rice). Likewise, cellist Vivienne Long's playing was absolutely gorgeous, albeit outweighed and overwhelmed by Rice's "screamo" attitude.
Word on the street is that Rice's new work, set for possible release later this year, will involve much more of this new sound. If this is the case, an audience reaction closely follows what transpired this fateful evening, Rice may find himself a truly damaged artist, for then he will really know abandonment.