DAMIEN RICE ★★★★
Melbourne Recital Centre, February 10
You're probably unlikely ever to be dancing at a Damien Rice gig, so the Melbourne Recital Centre seemed a good fit for his melancholic ballads.
It suited his audience too, who were mainly pushing towards Rice's age of 45 and not averse to the benefits of a cushioned seat and pitch-perfect acoustics.
The Irish musician began his set in total darkness with the venue lights off, singing his aching song Grey Room unamplified, forcing the crowd to sit back and focus purely on his voice and music.
When the lights came on there was Rice standing alone on stage with just some moody lighting and smoke.
Rice had already played a matinee gig earlier in the day and he told the sold-out crowd "the aim of tonight is I'm not allowed to play any songs from the afternoon shows".
The result was a free-wheeling set that included plenty of requests called out by the crowd – even obscure ones like the momentous wall of sound that is Insane.
"It's B sides and unreleased material tonight," he joked. "Is Melbourne a kind of music geek place? Splendid."
There was plenty of that during the night, with Rice's black sense of humour serving as an antidote to his emotional songs.
After a request to play the poignant Accidental Babies, he dramatically paused as he sat down at the piano. "Just waiting for the joy to leave the room," he said.
Rice occasionally admitted to mucking up the words of some of the songs thanks to the crowd-sourced nature of the set list, but it all added to the spontaneity of the evening.
At one stage it seemed as if the evening had gone off on such a tangent that he wasn't going to play his best-known hit, The Blower's Daughter from the movie Closer , but Rice delivered the haunting song to round out the set – finishing the way he started, unaccompanied and in total darkness.
He ended with a three-song encore and a promise to return to Melbourne more quickly than the last 10-year gap between tours.
"Thanks for remembering who I was," he said.
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