Devilish Damien’s heavenly voice

Damien Rice and Lisa HanniganDamien Rice, live @ Manchester Academy III, February 21, 2003

Upstairs at Manchester’s Academy, this week’s representative of the so-called “new acoustic movement” was Damien Rice armed with a guitar and accompanied solely by backing singer Lisa Hannigan.

He released his album O last year with no fanfare, no record label and no publishing deal – so you could be forgiven for not expecting too much.

But somehow the word had got out, the venue was full and the mumbling crowd was hit by hush as Rice (pictured with Lisa Hannigan) finally appeared on stage to open with comic b-side The Professor, which even the hardcore fans struggled to mouth the words to.

This was the instantly amiable and funny Damien Rice absent from his sublimely personal and often melancholic debut album.

But whether he was making you laugh, punching you in the heart, or stabbing your ears, everyone hung on his words in a setting so intimate you could hear the bar staff taking orders at the back of the venue.

Rice had the audience in his hands and didn’t drop them once through 19 songs – including an a cappella reworking of Silent Night by his backing singer as he re-tuned his guitar.

The crowd greeted this, as every song, with cheers, whistles and the kind of enthusiasm akin to the love-in of an open mic night.

By the time Damien played the genuinely touching Blower’s Daughter, it was obvious he was amongst friends.

The audience sang back “I can’t take my eyes off of you” through the chorus before demanding he played Cannonball. A lone voice called for Little and Large, but he was to be disappointed.

The set finished with the bizarre Eskimo, which on the album includes classical strings and a wall of Finnish operatic vocals, which Rice managed to recreate himself by recording and looping his vocals live on stage thanks to a nifty pedal at his disposal.

When he finally left the stage, the crowd merrily departed with the words “I look to my Eskimo friend when I’m down, down, down” ringing in their ears.

Though everyone at the gig would like him to be their best kept secret, the world has to hear Damien Rice.

And when they do – watch out Turin Brakes, Starsailor and Badly Drawn Boy – this guy will be leading the acoustic revolution.

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