Review By Terri Nas
An icy Tuesday night in Melbourne saw a sold-out crowd venture to Hamer Hall to be entertained by the brilliantly talented Damien Rice. With no support act to warm the audience up, we were ready and waiting for the houselights to go down. The mood was sombre, hypnotising, but full of anticipation, and it felt as if the whole audience was in a complete trance right from the beginning. The intimacy of the venue and stage set up, and the strict no phone policy meant that you could’ve heard a pin drop, and Damien was given our undivided attention as we were eased into the first song of the evening.
With an array of no less than 4 guitars on stage and some electronic keys, Rice seamlessly floated from instrument to instrument and for the 1 hour and 45 minutes he was on stage, we were treated to the highlights of his back catalogue. Delicate opened proceedings, followed by Insane & then a beautiful piano arrangement of one of my personal spine-tingling favourites, 9 Crimes.
The extremely dim & minimal stage lighting almost felt as if we were all intruding on a private and vulnerable moment, which also added a layer of mystery, as story after story was told in the form of song. Throughout the show the lighting altered periodically, and it gave the illusion that we were watching the sunrise gradually over the duration of the show. A couple of numbers where the dynamic built up in intensity called for more bright and sporadically harsh lighting, which got everyone’s heart started and ensured we hadn’t got too complacent.
Once we hit about the halfway mark of the set with the popular Cannonball, it was then that the wonderfully talented Francisca Barreto joined Rice on stage. Sitting behind her cello and with her beautiful vocal harmonies, Barreto added an extra rich depth to the songs being performed, kicking off with Astronaut.
Volcano was a huge crowd favourite and had the audience cheering extra loud and wanting more. The next tune was the more upbeat Coconut Skins, where we were told “you can sit on chimneys, with some fire up your ass”. We were then treated to Francisca’s solo vocals during I Remember, and her voice was truly angelic and hypnotising.
A heckler from the audience yelled out a request for Elephant, in which Damien replied he hadn’t played it in so long so he wasn’t sure he could remember it. But he played the song flawlessly, much to the delight of the requester and the rest of the audience. Another audience member then yelled out a request to play Rootless Tree, and despite Damien’s minimal interaction with the audience in between songs, he hilariously responded “Am I the requests bitch now?” Nevertheless he jumped on the keys and obliged.
As we approached the end of the set, I anticipated there wouldn’t be an encore given the vibe of the show. So now there was only one song left to play, another crowd favourite and his well-known hit The Blower’s Daughter. He serenaded us by repeatedly singing “I can’t take my eyes off you”, but Damien, it was us that couldn’t take our eyes off you.
Rice is a true storyteller and with his hauntingly beautiful melodies, he has a way of easily tapping into your emotions before you even realise it. I got the impression, given the vibe of the night, that Rice’s songs were there to do the talking so he didn’t feel it necessary to verbally interact with the audience too much. This is definitely one of the most unique and moving gigs I’ve been to, and a truly wonderful experience.