It was a dark and stormy night… seriously. Last Friday I attended Damien Rice’s show at the Greek Theater under an appropriately cloudy and sulky sky (uncommon here in LA). For those who don’t know, Damien Rice is an Irish singer-songwriter with some fairly big hits like 9 Crimes and The Blower’s Daughter. This was the final night of his US tour.
His show was excellent. Inspiring. It reminded me of everything that’s beautiful and fun about singing and songwriting. He ran through a setlist that included his recent album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, as well as some older classics.
This is one of the best shows I’ve been to in ages. There’s (at least) five reasons why:
Holy cow!, that guy’s voice. Big enough to fill the Greek Theater and beyond with just his own, single voice. During his second song I messaged a singer friend:
“Watching Damien Rice at the Greek. Angela, how do I sing like this guy? Do you have magic pills for that?”
Short answer: No. She doesn’t.
2. His Guitar Playing
Sensitive and dynamic, but not flashy. He plays an old Lowden S10 (http://www.lowdenguitars.com/). He doesn’t do solos per se, he doesn’t do intricate riffs, and he doesn’t do instrumentals. But the chords are always rich and complex, his tone is great, and he makes incredible use of dynamics. I’ve never heard someone get such a dynamic range out of a single acoustic guitar – from soft fingerpicking, to huge distortion.
3. His Effects
Speaking of that distortion, Rice goes unconventional on acoustic guitar effects. He uses distortion to heighten certain chorus and bridge sections of his songs. It’s a bit like that old Spinal Tap joke. You know, the one where the amp goes to 11? In Rice’s case, when the acoustic guitar’s natural volume just wasn’t big enough for certain sections, he’d hit the pedals and…boom. Eleven.
Rice uses a selection of pedals to provide delays, distortion, and looping:
- Vox Wah (link)
- MXR M-133 Micro Amp (link)
- Boss TU-2 (link)
- Boss LS-2 (link)
- Ernie Ball Volume (link)
- Line 6 DL-4 (link)
4. His Stories
He’s a funny, winsome guy. He uses the f-word more than the coach of the Cincinnati Reds. And he told a lot of great stories about Ireland, his youth, and random bits of wisdom.
His greatest story was about success. He said that he used to have a bunch of checkboxes that he wanted to ‘tick off’. Things he wanted to accomplish, experience, whatever. Then he woke up one day and found he’d ticked a whole bunch of the boxes off. But then he said he found that after he realized this, he was miserable. “Feckin’ miserable”, to quote him exactly. You’re happiest, he says, when you’ve got things you want to do in life. And if you think you’ll be happy when you finally arrive, don’t believe it. You’re already there.
5. His Wizardry
The most amazing thing, of course, is that he held the entire Greek Theater spellbound for over 2 hours with nothing more than his acoustic guitar and a microphone. Sure, there was a glass of wine, some distortion boxes, a jacket borrowed from somebody in the front row, and that random guy he invited up at the end to help him sing the final chorus. But let’s not muddy the waters. He was impressive.