Just when we thought the acoustics at the newly made-over Northrop Auditorium had been tested all they could after a variety of recent rock shows, along came Damien Rice.
The scruffy-looking, golden-voiced Irish balladeer – on his first full-fledged U.S. tour in seven years – made optimal use of the University of Minnesota theater’s refined acoustics halfway through Wednesday night’s 105-minute solo/acoustic concert. He stepped out from behind the mic to the front edge of the stage and proceeded to play “Volcano,” a highlight from his breakthrough 2002 debut, without any amplification. The song resonated magically throughout the reshaped, four-tier, nearly sold-out auditorium (I heard afterward it was audible just fine up in the balconies).
“Volcano” was enough to make the show feel like an intimate living-room performance versus the more expansive, cavernous experience when he played the Northrop back in 2006. Riced added to the "Volcano" fire by inviting about 20 audience members up to the front of the stage to recreate the tag-team vocal parts at the end of the song. Except for the loud, bellowing dude who thought he was Eddie Vedder, the fans nailed their part, and so did the acoustics gurus who oversaw the Northrop’s overhaul.
With an unusually strong voice and lovable, disheveled street-busker demeanor, Rice solidly reminded fans why he was such a big deal a decade ago. “It’s been a long time,” he said a few songs into the set, and then quipped flatly, “Not much has changed.”
He really wasn’t kidding, though. Even with seven years between albums, the songs off Rice’s newest record, “My Favourite Faded Fantasy,” fit right in alongside the long, dramatic, contentedly depressed tunes off the prior albums. A couple of the new tracks were among the highlights of the set, too, including the especially downbeat but beautiful relationship song “The Box” near the start of the show and “The Greatest Bastard,” a delicate and self-damning gem that kicked off the encore before the crowd favorite “The Blower’s Daughter.”
The concert ended just like the new record does, with cellist/vocalist Gyda Valtysdottir of the opening duo Galagalactic joining in for “Long, Long Way.” It was an apt title to sum up the show, given that Rice often took a long, long way around to introducing his songs. He rambled so much, he only fit in 14 songs total before curfew. But maybe we can use that to add to his Irish guilt and convince him he has to come back sooner.
Here’s the set list:
The Professor & La Fille Danse / 9 Crimes / Delicate / The Box / Amie / It Takes a Lot to Know a Man / Cannonball / Volcano / Trusty and True / I Remember ENCORE: The Greatest Bastard / The Blower's Daughter / Unknown song by Galagalactic (with Damien watching from behind drinking wine) / Long Long Way