As the concert ended, Damien Rice stood at mid-stage, microphone in one hand, cigarette in the other. He swayed slightly, a trail of red wine staining his t-shirt from collar to midriff. The image was fitting for the Irish bard whose often-gloomy catalog echoes sentiments of sleepless nights and feelings oft found in the bottom third of a whiskey bottle. However, it was one of the few times during Saturday night’s show at the Lincoln Theatre, that brooding image had fit.
Seldom did Rice conform to his commonly conceived image of a lovesick troubadour, shoulders hunched, eyes half closed and head dropping closer and closer to the ground with the weight of each verse. Instead, during the two-hour-plus set leading up to the night’s finale, Rice charmed with stories, seduced with love songs, rocked out with a wah-pedal-enhanced acoustic guitar and screamed himself silly on more than one occasion. For every somber selection like “The Blower’s Daughter” or “Older Chests” there was a fiery answer in the form of unreleased track “Woman Like a Man,” the frenzied finale of “I Remember” or the angsty “Rootless Tree” off of new album 9, released last month.
Since his breakup with Renee Zellweger allowed him to escape the tabloids, it seemed like Rice almost developed a reclusive image. Interviews with the singer are scarcely found anywhere on the internet, even after releasing his new album — perhaps due to his feeling that he could no longer live his life due to public scrutiny, a sentiment he echoed in a story preceding new tune “Coconut Skins.” And perhaps also the low-publicity approach has further embellished the image of Rice as sullen and low key, but musical pundits trying to peg him as acoustic balladeer are only painting half the proverbial picture.
The other half would be a series of scenes demonstrating not only the breadth of Rice’s skill as a musician, but his commitment to his audience.
On the final number of the night, “Cheers Darlin’,” Rice recounted the song’s inspirational story (though “inspirational” hardly seems the right word) of a despondent and disappointed drunk watching the love-of-his-life-of-the-moment walk away. Twice during the retelling Rice paused to down two sizable glasses of wine in their entirety — hence the aforementioned stain. Call it a kind of musical method acting.
Just prior to the encore Rice flexed his musical muscle to the fullest, unplugging his guitar and stepping in front of the microphone to perform “Cannonball” to a dead-silent and breathless crowd. That silence disappeared with the song’s final note, as the vast majority of the audience repaid him with a thunderous standing ovation.
Accompanying Rice on stage, per usual, were drummer Tom Osander, bassist Shane Fitzsimons, cellist Vyvienne Long and vocalist Lisa Hannigan. Whether intentional or otherwise, the lighting left Hannigan in the shadows for much of the show, though it did no harm to her siren’s serenade on tracks like “Volcano,” or encore tune “Unplayed Piano.”
One of several laughs of the night (laughs that began thanks to exemplary opening band The Swell Season) was supplied by Long’s recital of Flaming Lips cover “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Not too often do you brood over a beer while whistling lines like “Yoshimi, they don’t believe me / but you won’t let those robots eat me.”
The only disappointment in Rice’s performance is that more of the country won’t get the opportunity to see it. His brief U.S. tour wrapped Wednesday in Minnesota. Perhaps the next time he’s stateside he’ll reveal even more about himself.