Damien Rice shows his talent in Hong Kong, and how much he likes a joke
Fans at Wan Chai’s Vine Centre treated to an intimate show dominated by tracks from singer’s acclaimed 2002 debut album O
Damien Rice wants you to know that he has a sense of humour.
This is not something you would realise just from listening to his music. The brooding Irish singer-songwriter is famed for his emotionally wrought compositions. At one point during his intimate gig at Wan Chai’s Vine Centre on Tuesday night (May 31), he pauses between songs and announces, “This one is a little less intense”, provoking a ripple of knowing laughter from the audience.
Later, re-enacting a skit he has performed at many gigs over the years, he invites a female audience member onto the stage to drink a bottle of red wine with him, while her astounded boyfriend looks on. What starts as a light-hearted exchange descends into what is essentially a drinking game, as Rice sets the scene for his anti-love song Cheers Darlin’, from his critically acclaimed debut album O (2002). The result has his fans belly-laughing, particularly the woman, who becomes a focus for his bitterness, while her boyfriend apparently shares the scene with their friends on Facebook. Another bizarre interaction sees him jokingly describe how he overcame a period of mild depression and writer’s block by masturbating.
Rice is generally a man of few words, at least on stage, as well as few songs, given his 20 years in the music industry. The 42-year-old musician has taken lengthy breaks for soul-searching between his three albums, which ironically appears to have been prompted by their extraordinary success. But his focus on quality over quantity has paid off – his music remains timeless and effortlessly beautiful. Opening with Older Chests, he reminds us that his early days as a busker continue to shape his overall musical approach, creating an intimacy and familiarity that his fans find irresistible.
Songs from O continue to dominate the gig and, perhaps unsurprisingly, appear to resonate most deeply with the audience. Volcano, I Remember, Amie and particularly Delicate and The Blower’s Daughter evoke a sense of fragility in a way that only he can. The standout track 9 Crimes from his 2006 album 9, is somewhat diminished by the lack of former collaborator and girlfriend Lisa Hannigan’s vocals. Subsequently, the rawness of Accidental Babies (“Do you come/ Together ever with him?/ And is he dark enough?/ Enough to see your light?”) renders it the more evocative performance.
Rice’s Irish folk roots reveal themselves more fully in Trusty and True from his most recent album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy (2014) – a song that appears infinitely superior when performed live. Meanwhile, the album’s other highlights, namely Colour Me In and It Takes a Lot to Know a Man, show how Rice has striven to give his music wholeness and precision.
During the latter, he becomes a one-man band, performing impressive guitar, clarinet, percussion and drum solos. And to the sheer delight of his fans, once Rice has left the stage, the show continues outside the venue, just Rice and his guitar surrounded by a small army of his most devoted local followers.
Rice is typically reluctant to discuss the release of new material, probably because he feels intense pressure to exceed his previous work. But his fears remain unfounded; this man’s talent is innate and boundless.