Damien Rice at the Danforth Music Hall

Irish singer/songwriter returns with new songs, same dark humour

DAMIEN RICE at the Danforth Music Hall, Tuesday, November 18. Rating: NNN

After a cancelled appearance last month, Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice finally returned to the Danforth Music Hall on Tuesday, eight years since he last played the venue, and seven years since I last saw him in Toronto, at the Sony Centre.

For that 2007 Sony concert, Rice was in full one-man-show mode: animatedly singing and performing long between-song skits. It was unexpectedly hilarious and delightful considering the sombre nature of the two albums he’d released at that point: O and 9.

For his 2014 gig in front of a rare seated Danforth audience, Rice was slightly less animated, but his obvious comfort onstage and knack for casually carrying on conversations with the crowd was still warm, inviting and entertaining. Sure, his chat was often dark: long, winding stories about his depressing views on relationships intro-ing songs with statements such as, “The notion of self-hatred is an interesting topic I think we should discuss.” But he always solicited plenty of laughter.

Rice played alone onstage with just his acoustic guitar and nothing but a little smoke and a couple of spotlights behind him. Occasionally, there would be a swell of thundering feedback, but that was it in terms of fanfare. The minimal setup worked well for the artist, who handily carried the whole two-hour show, except for a couple of minor spots when his voice got stuck and he couldn’t quite reach the high notes (he admitted his throat was very dry).

But, no matter how hard he strummed that guitar, it couldn’t make up for the orchestration on his albums. It would be nice to see Rice’s tunes performed live with a fleshed out band, and female vocalists for his duets.

He wisely focused on back-catalogue hits – 9 Crimes, Delicate, Older Chests, The Blower’s Daughter – but devoted some time to his new album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, finally giving it some love 45 minutes into the show with I Don’t Want To Change You and a few other cuts.

The best part? Just before the encore, Rice split the audience into thirds, leading us through a three-part singalong of O favourite Volcano, mimicking the recorded version. We sounded pretty great.

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