In January of 2003 Damien Rice played to an enchanted audience at London’s Union Chapel. A year on and, now a Brit nominee, the Irish singer/songwriter is playing the first of two sold-out nights at the 4800-capacity Brixton Academy.
Sometimes success can have its downsides though, as demonstrated in a gig so far removed from the Union Chapel that you would have been forgiven for thinking you were seeing a completely different performer. Gone was much of the fragility that was such a trademark of his previous shows and critically acclaimed debut album, O, as Rice attempted to adapt his music to the bigger venue, with varying results.
The first indications of Rice’s “new sound” came straight away as he began with a version of live favourite The Professor that was full of vigorous guitar playing and heavy drums. It was a sign of the man’s talent that he was able to succeed in totally revamping so many of the songs that nearly reduced people to tears in past gigs. Indeed, such is his appetite for experimentation that no song ever sounds the same at any two shows, and there are not many singer/songwriters you can say that about.
Yet despite alternative arrangements, none of the emotion, on tender tunes like I Remember and Delicate, was lost. Another love song, the beautiful Amie, was one of the night’s highlights as a glitterball bathed the audience in diamond lights.
He may have adapted a harder sound on many numbers but Rice is an artist whose music demands silence. Sadly, unlike a year before when you could have heard a pin drop onto a bed of feathers, the Brixton crowd ruined many people’s enjoyment with their constant chatter.
Rice’s “attempt” to sing the Leonard Cohen classic Hallelujah off-mike, a poignant moment at that Union Chapel show, was simply not heard at the bigger venue. Indeed, much of the audience seemed blissfully unaware he was even singing until half way through the song.
Thankfully, for him as much as anyone else, Rice is a genial Irishman. Where you can imagine many of his moody contemporaries storming off stage at the lack of respect shown for their music, he was able to plod on and always keep the sense of humour that is such a major part of his live performances.
Much light relief came when cellist Vyvienne Long took the limelight. Bless her, but you can see why she is normally sat behind a cello and well out of reach of a microphone. Covering two Beatles classics, Eleanor Rigby and Come Together, she knew her vocal limitations and was able to get the crowd on her side with some new, interesting, lyrics in her quirky renditions.
When Rice returned, Cheers Darlin’, complete with role-play and much drinking on stage, ended the night on a high, but it’s fair to say that it may be a while before he goes back to Brixton.