Damien Rice @ Metropolis, Montreal – 21st November 2014

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Tonight’s Damien Rice show at Metropolis is a show of two halves: Pre-wine and post-wine. And, at 3 hours and 28 minutes long, is the longest concert I’ve ever attended!

Rice is in Montreal on the final night of his “mini tour” playing the city’s esteemed venue to a sold out crowd who snapped up tickets in a matter of minutes when they went on sale back in September. After a few years away from the limelight, he seems to be well and truly excited to be out sharing new music following the release of his new Rick Rubin-produced album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy.

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Tonight there’s no opening act, and the Irish 40-year-old plays solo for the full set. No cello, no drums, the piano remains unplayed…. just Rice, an acoustic guitar and a few effect pedals to add layers to his songs. The venue’s bars are all closed for the duration of his set so as to avoid any unwanted peripheral chatter and noise during his quieter moments and the lights are appropriately low-key.

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A few minutes after 8:30 the houselights dim and Damien wanders on stage with his trusty guitar to massive cheers throughout the room. “This has got to die”, he sings, as the opening chords of Elephant re-introduce us to that oh-so-familiar voice. It’s a gentle start but it’s not long before Rice reminds us how diverse his sound actually is, especially considering it’s just one man and an acoustic guitar. B-side, Woman Like A Man, surprises in its ferocity and intensity as he delivers the line “You wanna get burned, you wanna get turned, you wanna get fucked inside out” before stripping things right down again for the appropriately named Delicate. You might expect older songs, especially those from his astonishing debut album, to garner the greatest response from tonight’s audience but it’s good to see brand new material getting huge cheers too, despite the album only being released a few weeks ago. I Don’t Want to Change You sounds every inch the Damien Rice classic and The Greatest Bastard sees the singer back to his heartbreaking best.

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For the first few songs there’s no between-song banter but, as the night progresses and Rice finds his comfort zone, the chat and story-telling increases. “Merci. Bienvenue” he says to a huge cheer. “You guys have been drinking too much” he replies, “I could do some crowd surfing but the only problem is there’s nobody else to play the music so it’d be silent crowd surfing.” A fan passes him a book, in french, that he attempts to read a section from before introducing the next song, The Professor & La Fille Danse, featuring french lyrics to put a smile on the faces of his audience.

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New song The Box leads into Damien’s most well-known tune, The Blower’s Daughter, the whole room singing the words “I can’t take my eyes of of you” before he ends the main set with Volcano.

Rice’s lyrics often touch on his tortured quest to define what it means to be a man, although he never relies on self-pity and, in some ways, can seem resigned to the suggestion that he continually sabotages his relationships with women. He talks about being his own biggest critic and how he’s finally defining his own standards when it comes to what’s right and wrong, good and bad. And yet, his charm is there for all to see, and his honesty only makes him more endearing.

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For the encore, which eventually becomes “my most elongated show ever”, Rice eases into the gorgeous Colour Me In and a soaring Amie before Rootless Tree builds to the condemning chorus of “Fuck you and all we’ve been through”. It’s then that tonight’s show takes its unexpected turn…

A table and chairs are brought to the side of the stage and Rice invites a girl from the front rows to join him on stage. He checks she’s not driving home before cracking open a bottle of wine and beginning the story of meeting a girl in a bar while sheltering from the rain. As the tale unfolds each mention of drinking sees Rice and his guest down another glass of wine until the familiar chords of Cheers Darlin’ begin and the singer acts out the lyrics as a bitter drunk who finds out his impromptu date is actually waiting for her fiance to pick her up. Rice theatrically stumbles about the stage while continuing to drink from the bottle of red, finally hugging his new friend before returning to his guitar for Cannonball.

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Trusty & True is another highlight. A makeshift choir of around 25 people are invited on stage to sing harmonies on the song. By now it’s 11:18pm and Damien informs us “the concert ended half an hour ago. Now we’re just hangin’ out” and he seems more like he’s now making it up as he goes along and, post-wine, seems a little tipsy, hitting a few dud notes and mixing his words up. It has to be said, however, that this only makes you like him more as he makes it clear none of this is to be taken too seriously. It’s easy to imagine him playing a post-show set in the hotel bar, only this time he’s chosen to do that in Metropolis instead.

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A Leonard Cohen story introduces the Cohen-influenced Back To Her Man and Damien keeps saying he’ll play one more song. But it’s past midnight before he does finally wrap up the show with I Remember. Many have already had to leave, but for those who made it to the end, there’s a feeling of accomplishment as well as one of having witnessed an event never to be repeated. Damien Rice may have influenced a new generation of singer/songwriters but he manages to remain unique. Or as he would say, “unique just like everyone else”.

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Review and photos – Steve Gerrard

Setlist:

Elephant
Woman Like a Man
Delicate
My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Older Chests
I Don’t Want to Change You
9 Crimes
The Greatest Bastard
The Professor & La Fille Danse
The Box
The Blower’s Daughter
Volcano
Encore:
Colour Me In
Amie
Rootless Tree
Cheers Darlin’
Cannonball
Trusty and True
It Takes a Lot to Know a Man
Baby Sister
Back To Her Man
Me, My Yoke and I
I Remember

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