I first discovered Damien Rice almost twenty years ago.
I was clicking around YouTube and came across Rice’s signature tune, ‘The Blower’s Daughter’. It was a time when I was tired of what was being played on the radio. I longed to find something different that I would enjoy and replay, and I found that and more in Damien Rice’s music.
After finally seeing him live in Bendigo back in 2019 before the world shifted, I was overjoyed to be seeing one of my favourite songwriters again. But this time in my own city and at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall. Known more as a concert hall for symphony orchestras and operas, I had wondered how the atmosphere and sound of the theatre would fare to Damien Rice’s acoustic style of music.
Entering the lower foyer of the venue, the energy of the room was filled with patrons keen to see Damien Rice live for the first time, and then there were others, like me, who were just as excited to see him again. There was even a fan that took to the lonely piano in the foyer to play Damien Rice’s music while waiting. Although I had seen Rice once before, four years is a long time, and I was as curious as everyone else on what would unfold.
Once the doors to the theatre had opened, fans quickly organised themselves to take their seats, and I found myself looking upon a dimly lit stage. It was in that moment that I remembered how unique Damien Rice’s concerts are.
Despite the 2,466 seated venue being sold-out, every patron was silent and respectful during Damien Rice’s numbers. Advised to turn off our phones and put the world away for a moment, it was so quiet; you could hear a pin drop. Engulfed in darkness, the audience would only bring themselves to cheer after a song was done, or just before in excitement when recognising the first few notes to Rice’s more popular tunes.
What makes Damien Rice so magical to see live is that there is no setlist. We are at the mercy of what Rice wants to sing, or what he obliges to play that is kindly requested by fans in between songs. Even his accompaniment with singer/cellist Francisca Barreto and his stage lighting, all is completely improvised.
I firmly believe that every time Damien Rice sings his songs, he relives the emotions that he felt when he initially wrote them. Being the light in the darkness (quite literally), Rice took his audience on a mysterious and haunting journey through his raw stories of love, heartache, pain, and sorrow. All consistently and effortlessly through song.
Equipped with four guitars that he rotated, and a piano, his arresting vocals and eloquent lyrics combined to provide sublime tales and notes that cut through the hearts of many, filling every inch and corner of Melbourne’s Hamer Hall with his raw talent and sincerity.
There were many songs that I recognised and many that I didn’t, but all were beautiful including ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, ‘9 Crimes’, ‘Delicate’, ‘Older Chests’, ‘Volcano’, and my personal favourites ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Amie’. But the highlights of the night were two fan-requested numbers that consisted of an enchanting acoustic piano version of ‘Rootless Tree’, and a jaw-dropping, gorgeous and heartfelt rendition of ‘Elephant’ on the acoustic guitar.
I had heard ‘Elephant’ once before when I initially saw Damien Rice live during his last Australian visit. However, at the time, I was admittedly more excited to hear his more popular numbers which were the songs that made me fall in love with his music. This time though, it was ‘Elephant’ that stayed with me long after I left the venue. I’ll never forget the way this was displayed. His vocals soared to the ceilings of Hamer Hall while they too rushed through me, and the lighting of the stage was smartly lit in warm colours of yellow which grew brighter and brighter as Rice’s vocals grew louder and louder. It was as if Damien Rice was standing before a sunrise.
Recalling that this was all improvised, it was as powerful as it was theatrical. My only regret is that I didn’t film any of it. I can’t rewatch it and remember that it was real, and this is due to Rice’s request for fans to just enjoy the show without technology.
I do understand the atmosphere and setting that Rice is trying to create with his work, and I daresay that his concerts are the perfect marriage of live music and theatre – it’s art. In any other circumstance with theatre, you would do the same and put your phones away for the duration of the show.
Mysterious, haunting, and infectiously captivating, there is no experience quite like a Damien Rice concert. I even found myself closing my eyes various times to lose myself in the music, focusing on the art of Rice’s gorgeous songwriting and incredible vocals. With fans pleading for Rice to stay a bit longer, unfortunately all good things must come to an end and Rice disappeared from the stage as quickly as he came.
There was something so special about witnessing Damien Rice live. We all collectively gathered to live in the moment and witness the beloved Irish singer-songwriter in his element. Majestically serenading the lucky ones that managed to grab tickets to the sold-out Hamer Hall Melbourne show, he lost himself to the music and he took us all along with him.
I only hope that Damien Rice returns to Melbourne sooner rather than later as I am aching to see him live in concert again. I promise you, there’s no experience like it. Until then, I’ll relive everything through listening to his music on repeat once more, exactly like how I found him those many years ago.
Promoted by Frontier Touring, Chugg Entertainment, and Gaynor Crawford, Damien Rice performed in Melbourne on Tuesday the 16th of May at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall as part of his 2023 Australian Tour.
Tickets are scarce but for more information and ticketing, visit:
Photography by David Vagg.