By Zane Warman
Damien Rice’s sold out show at the Apollo Theater on Nov. 15, his first time headlining New York 2007. The myriad of emotions ginned up in the performance, as well as the singer-songwriter’s warm treatment of the audience, put cracks in the public perception of him as the misunderstood, brilliant loner.
As the audience filed in, rumors of Rice’s eccentric behavior concerning shows floated around: he would truncate performances after two songs, not return for encores or sporadically widdling down dates to a handful in far-off locales. Even this concert, supposedly featuring rejuvenated Rice had mysterious undertones.
The surprise opener turned out to be My Bubba, comprised of two women who “met Damien in a swimming pool in Iceland this summer.” A short but endearing set, the quirky group had a sister-act panache that seemed ripped from the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. Each song had a story, if not a title, each more absurd than the previous. The group’s folky guitar and Swedish harp perfectly complemented the duo’s breathy alto harmonies and rounds.
A short time later Rice strode onstage, alone. Those expecting a note-for-note recreation of his lushly orchestrated albums seemed set up for disappointment. Despite all the time away from touring, Rice’s Irish timbre sounded ageless, his fingerpicking deft and more full-bodied than ever. As refreshed as Rice sounded, the show was curving towards the unsurprising unplugged evening.
After the three tracks, Rice waded into the title track of his newest album, “My Favorite Faded Fantasy.” As the song began to climax, Rice smashed his foot on overdrive pedals, making his acoustic sound like ten crunching electric guitars. Backlights scrolled frantically behind him as he howled the “I’ve never loved, never loved like you” bridge, creating a chaotic scene.
Rice’s onstage persona right was bright and genuine. He wisecracked with the effusive fans, monologued about his Irish upbringing, and introduced songs with candor.
Rice made a point to say that the new album’s songs were aimed at himself. He added that his outlook, contrary to his old songs’ moods, was about personal awareness and self-love.
It was clear Rice was administering control, taking the eccentricity on his terms instead of being subjected to it like many emotional performers. The power he had made the songs unbelievably dynamic. At points he was so silent, it was as if his strings were made of gossamer; at others, his throaty screams barely reached over the rattling guitar.
Similar to his albums, Rice brought forth unexpected delights as the show progressed. For “Cannonball,” Rice stepped from behind the microphone, unplugged his guitar and gave a bare rendition from the edge of center stage.
“Volcano” brought on a drummer and female vocalist, with Rice instructing the house on how to sing the song’s three-part vocals.
For his farewell song, “Trusty and True,” Rice asked the audience members to ruminate over guilty actions from the past and, as he put it, “give it a bit of a burn.”
Lights then revealed a 14-person choir behind a veil, ending the evening with a soaring aesthetic.
His 90-minute set was stunning in its hills and valleys of emotion that were kept in check by an empathetic, interactive performer.
Zane Warman is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org