14/09/2019 - 11:01
By Eoghan O’Sullivan
Cork Opera House
It's been a while since we last heard from Damien Rice - four years since his last shows in Ireland, five since his last studio album.
His headline slot at Cork Opera House for Sounds From a Safe Harbour festival serves as a reminder of what we've been missing.
Anyone unsure of what to expect is put at ease at the outset as, face hidden in darkness, Rice eases into 'Delicate', the opening track from the era-defining album O.
He is instantly joking with the audience and late arrivers before conducting them all for an amazing singalong to 'Volcano', the left and right side of the Opera House harmonising before the upper tiers hit the high notes.
He only plays 13 songs over two hours, almost all prefaced with a story; from 'Older Chest', where he "couldn't beat the demo", to Rick Rubin's "no taste in music", recording with Black Sabbath and Eminem either side of Rice for what became My Favourite Faded Fantasy.
It's a lot of talking - including one cringy, icky tale that's best left unsaid - but you hang on every word.
Prefacing the first of two new songs by discussing trying to right his environmental hypocrisy, Rice is joined on piano/vocals by support act Jofridur Akadottir aka JFDR.
"I'm finding it harder to look in your eyes," he heartbreaks. The other new song, 'Astro', a love song that's not about love, finds him standing over a noisebox.
It all plays out over minimal lighting, the scene set with a couple of bottles of untouched wine on one side and a piano on the other.
He only uses one guitar that seems to require very little tuning - Rice doesn't need much to enchant.
He launches into the Juniper rarity 'Insane' with ease, having asked the audience if there was anything they'd like to hear - for those wondering, there's no 'The Blower's Daughter' and 'Cannonball' in the setlist.
The finale finds Rice joined onstage by an Italian friend, Greta, for '9 Crimes' before he invites Sounds From a Safe Harbour director Mary Hickson out to play a little percussion on 'Trusty and True'.
The reveal of Gemma Sugrue and her Voiceworks choir is magical, the slowly escalating song easily the highlight of the night.
The encore sees the choir and Rice standing in a line, with no amplification, for a powerful rendition of 'It Takes A Lot To Know A Man'.
Hickson maintains that the festival is about putting the artist first - hopefully Rice left the Opera House as fulfilled as everyone in the crowd.
A special show from a special musician.