Live Music + Gig Reviews

Damien Rice @ Glastonbury Festival

29 June 2003

Forty-eight hours before Damien Rice played at Glastonbury, this reviewer was watching another Irish performer, Maria Doyle Kennedy, in the Acoustic tent. Imagine my surprise at seeing a man sitting near me on the grass methodically tearing the collar off his T-shirt while Doyle Kennedy was singing. Later in the concert, the Irish songstress called the same man up on stage to do a special duet. It was Damien Rice.

Maybe that incident sums up the Kildare-born eccentric, who has been called a “rakish 29-year-old Irish folk sensation” in the latest issue of the American rock bible Rolling Stone magazine. Rice’s combination of luscious melodies, folksy guitar and raw, emotive vocals have charmed audiences around Ireland, and are beginning to seduce mellow music fans in the UK and the United States as well.

Hundreds more were won over by a sparkling performance in the blistering sun of Sunday afternoon on Glastonbury’s Other stage. Rice, who shared the stage with co-vocalist Lisa Hannigan and cellist Vyvienne Long, sang his heart out for the duration, and was rewarded with no less than five extensions to his set.

It turned out that the extra time was available because The Raveonettes, due on afterwards, had problems with their equipment, but the assembled crowd were free to imagine that the twenty minutes overtime was really a richly-deserved treat for Damien Rice and the fans alike.

Almost every song from Damien Rice’s debut album O received an outing, from coarse, primal tracks like Cannonball and Cheers Darlin to lilting, melodious airs like Amie that make guitar, strings and male and female vocals seem like they were always meant to be together. I Remember was given specially extended treatment.

Rolling Stone also compared Rice to rock legend Jeff Buckley. Maybe this inspired his graceful cover of Leonard Cohen‘s enduring classic Hallelujah, which Buckley made his own on his Grace album. A highlight of the festival came when Rice’s enthralling rendition of Blower’s Daughter segued into a cover of Radiohead‘s Creep, the one song that the Oxford masters declined to play the night before.

But there was still more to come. Rice’s earlier fears of having to cut a song from the set to compensate for playing longer versions of some of the tracks were unnecessary as the extra time allowed him to play both Delicate and the Professor, and to finish off with Eskimo, a beautiful, unique bilingual song that allowed both Rice and his singing partner Lisa Hannigan to shine at their brightest.

Rice is playing at T in the Park and V2003 during the summer before embarking on a seventeen-date tour of the US in September. Embrace his magical music live while you still can.

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