By Michael Smyth, Contributer.
After a much lamented 8 year absence from the limelight, news of Damien Rice’s return had his fan base salivating at the prospect of fresh material and a new solo tour. The scarcity of tour dates saw Rice return to the city where he first established himself. The Dublin date also coincided with the release of his new album My Favourite Faded Fantasy giving it an even greater sense of occasion, and the crowd inside the Bord Gáis Theatre knew it. They were gripped from the moment the Irish troubadour took to the stage.
Opening song, “The Greatest B*stard” is quickly followed by a brand new track, then fan favourite “Delicate” from his critically adored debut O. It soon becomes apparent this will be a night full of understated and intense quality that will see Rice explore his back catalogue while showcasing the anticipated new material. Armed with his trusty acoustic guitar and a miniscule pedal board, he performs track after track with the intimacy and commitment that he has become synonymous with. Indeed so many years off the circuit have done nothing to hamper the musician’s performance skills. He delivers his songs to near perfection with a hint of lust, agony, anger or whatever other emotion that is demanded.
“Volcano” is a particular highlight which sees Rice engage the crowd in a crescendo round of participation that gets tails wagging. From here on, they are his. Rice’s interaction comes largely in the form of modestly told origin stories about some of his greatest compositions which creates a casual rapport across the stage barrier. When he asks what the crowd would like to hear next he is met with a wave of requests. Some of these are some serious, others not so much. This reviewer may or may not have jokingly bellowed “Freebird”.
His three song encore consists of “Coconut Skins” from his sophomore title 9, a deeply stirring albeit inevitable rendition of what could be called his signature tune “The Blower’s Daughter”, and finally a track from My Faded Fantasy, “Trusty and True”. This final song sees Rice accompanied by Bodhrán player Rónán Ó Snodaigh for what is perhaps the song of the night. A slowly illuminating choir gradually join in and round off the show with a grand spectacle. This track shone because of the accompaniment which felt lacking elsewhere throughout the set. But this is only a minor criticism, after all, as a talented musician perhaps Rice felt his return was one which he had to do on his own.
As a lone voice from the crowd yells out, “Welcome back Damien!” the entire venue’s sentiment is vocalised. We can only hope that the singer-songwriter’s muffled promise to “See you in the Summer” is one that he keeps.