Thoughts on an Audience: Damien Rice at the Orpheum
There are two ends of the music listener/fan spectrum: those that go to shows to hear and experience music and those that want others to hear that they were at the show/experience the vast majority of the show through their smart phone. Regretfully, last evening's Damien Rice audience at the Orpheum in Boston was filled with the latter.
To kick off the evening, the Scandinavian duo My Bubba took to the stage. The two Ear Trumpet Lab mics on stage immediately perked me up and got me interested in their rich and beautiful vocal harmonies and light, airy instrumentation. Unfortunately, the two stood no chance.
For starters the Orpheum felt the need to keep the house lights up during their performance, which was a sure detriment to my listening experience. People seemed to take that as a sign that they didn’t need to pay attention, like it was more of a sound check or after thought. The two gals on stage were weaving a beautifully intricate musical quilt to cover the room with and only about half the audience gave their attention. The sound was also sub-par during their set and volume was an issue. I feel bad for My Bubba and the 50% of listeners who actually wanted to enjoy the set. On behalf of Boston, I am sorry My Bubba ladies, please come back. There are people here who actually appreciate beautiful music.
Once Damien Rice hit the stage -- after an extended break between sets -- he made the decision to play his first song and the title track off his latest record, My Favorite Faded Fantasy, without a vocal mic. In theory, a wonderful and beautiful idea that has worked many times before, but in this instance the potential of this moment was swallowed up by a less than stellar listening crowd. The side conversations and attempted halt of them with persistent “shhhhh”-ing from their neighbors really made what could have been a very special moment a bit painful.
Rice played a great and varied set. The dude is charming as hell, knows how to power through a long set, and I am not sure how but that voice of his stays strong for the duration. High points were his solo arrangements of some of the newer songs. Where full out orchestral parts were replaced with looping vocals, guitars and effects. Though a few of these looping sessions went on a bit long and felt a bit experimental, he obviously has worked these arrangements out in his head and they serve their purpose. An audience involvement moment on “Volcano” was also a highlight and the only time of the evening that such participation wasn’t a nuisance. He directed his chorus of thousands and it made for a really beautiful moment in the evening. His encore was one of the few time periods of the evening where there seemed to be full engagement. The closer, “Long Long Way” into “Cold Water” was an absolutely enchanting moment as he built vocal textures and pump organ droning before he began to sing and play his guitar…really a magical moment.
Damien has been at this for a long time, albeit took a long hiatus recently. That being said, I am pretty sure the guy still knows the names of his songs so you can stop screaming song titles at him from the crowd. Damien Rice will play any goddamn song Damien Rice wants to play and you should let him do so (insert any other songwriter name for Damien Rice and also, quit being an asshole).
It is such a shame when what should be an amazing should is turned into a good show by an audience that just doesn’t get it. I am not sure if the crowd was peppered with boyfriends of female fans that didn’t want to be there, young folks who don’t quite get going to a show, or just rude human beings who hate listening to music. I am by no means a rabid fan of the songwriter. He probably isn’t in my top 10, or even 15 personal musical influences, but I do enjoy his music. But, Damien Rice plays slow, depressing songs…which is why I like him. He makes no apologies for that and he sings and writes with a fervor and heart that a lot of songwriters do not begin to amount to. People going to one of his shows, I imagine, are familiar with his music. It’s not a surprise that in order to truly appreciate and enjoy the details of his songs you have to listen, REALLY listen. This isn’t a crappy cover band at a dive bar or the house band at your cousin’s bar mitzvah. If you are going to spend the time (and money) going to a show like this, then for the love of all things holy, listen to the f*cking music and appreciate it. That being said, Rice was on fire all night. His voice is absolutely phenomenal and his guitar playing was great. Some of the heavy distortion stuff through an acoustic was a bit over the top (and that light show…do away with that next time) but I got where he was going with it. It is remarkable how one guy can really fill the sound out of a song like he has with these arrangements. This night wasn’t less than it could have been because of the artists performing by any stretch of the imagination…
And to the guy yelling “Elephant” an hour into the set…f*ck you dude, he played that song like second. Pay attention.
The guy trying to listen at the concert