Damien Rice took to Costa Hall in Geelong on Thursday, 18 May 2023 and it was pure magic.
The last time I witnessed Damien Rice serenade a crowd was in 2019 at Hamer Hall. It was his first tour to Australia in over a decade and it did not disappoint. Tears trickled down my cheeks during the heartwrenching piano ballad of ‘Accidental Babies’ then, and they flowed again last night. This time the setting was Geelong’s Costa Hall on a dreary Thursday night; a space that just three weeks ago projected graphic footage of Jackass alum, Steve-O. Whilst opposite in nature, surprisingly, both shows shared some discussion points: masturbation. Bear with me…
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Taking our seats to the solemn sounds of Elliot Smith, the mood was set for the single-act show with Rice appearing at 8.15 PM and kicking into things with ‘I Stepped Out in the Rain’ projected with no microphone, no amplification. A solitary man, his four guitars and an upright, backlit by the warm-yellow glow of a floor fixture enhanced each and every honey-coated word that exited Rice’s throat. The crowd was silent, albeit a few coughs, which continued throughout the night as if desperately clinging to each vowel, note, and Irish inflection. Stepping in front of a microphone and plugging in, Rice delivered a triplet of tear-jerkers all too soon; ‘Delicate’, the aforementioned ‘Accidental Babies’ and crowd-pleaser ‘Cannonball’.
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Keeping with his 2002 debut O, ‘Amie’ was prefaced with a narrative about his first experience staying at a female friend’s house (his first tongue-in-cheek reference to self-pleasure). He slid the outro into a partial cut of ‘Eskimo’, bringing Rice to his knees, channelling his emotions into his guitar work as he barely whispered “down, down, down”. The operatic crescendo of the album’s closing number was substituted for a barebones fade that drove home Rice’s lyrical discourse.
The next portion of the set saw Rice joined by Francisca Barreto on cello and delivering chilling vocal performances for souring tracks ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, ‘Astronaut’, ‘I Don’t Want To Change You’, their first duet live attempt at ‘9 Crimes’ (with astounding success), and ‘Older Chests’. Within there was also the crowd request of the unreleased ‘Stoic’ and the energetic ‘Coconut Skin’ which saw the two front the stage sans microphone with Barreto on the hand shakers.
Outside of the post-song cheers, the only singalong came at the end of ‘Volcano’ where Rice coordinated a crowd-harmonised call and response to glorious effect. ‘I Remember’ saw Barreto take on vocal duties again for a stunning duet of the two part song that documents the honeymoon period of a relationship that takes a turn when you both parties reveal their true self, or as Rice put it, “You show them who you really are and they show you who they really are – fuckers”. The explosive build was mirrored with strobing stage lights representing that chaotic emotional downturn.
By request, Rice closed out the set with ‘The Professor & La Fille Danse’, another song he prefaced with a tale of mastabation using a pile of briefcases containing millions of dollars as an analogy for the needs and desires associated with hitting puberty as a thirteen year old boy. Rice’s charisma and humorous storytelling was the perfect balance between his melancholic melody, something he acknowledged during the post-standing ovation encore.
Responding to an audience members “We love you” comment, Rice candidly admitted “Don’t talk to me about love, you’re all at this concert because somebody hurt you”, before explaining that he is actually a happy person despite the stigma because he funnels his pain into songwriting; “Then I gave my depression to you”. The final send off came with the swells of none other than ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, the pinnacle of Rice’s repertoire, closing out a nearly two hour celebration of the Irish songwriters catalogue.
As he approaches his 50th birthday, Rice proves his voice, his onstage demeanour and his ability to collect tears is still strong. When he is onstage, you truly cannot take your eyes off of Damien Rice.
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