ARTS

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May 11, 2004

Demien Rice dazzles, despite appalling behavior from alcohol-fueled audience

As I'm typing this, I'm handcuffed to my friend and roommate, Alyssa Manning, for item number 133 of Scav Hunt. We weren't always this close, though—just last Tuesday, while she was off cultivating piranhas or something, I was uptown at the Riviera, watching Damien Rice play to a sold-out crowd.The opening band, the Frames, was very good; if I'd had money to burn, I'd probably be listening to their latest CD, Set List, right now. The band hailed from Dublin, Ireland (as does Damien Rice), a fact made apparent by their accents. A few songs stuck out: "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops," which front man Glen Hansard explained as a song for when you wake up next to your girlfriend and suddenly realize you don't love her anymore; a few snippets from Willy Wonka—as in, "The strawberry tastes like strawberry!"; and "God Bless Mom," which Hansard dedicated to everyone's mother, "except for George Bush's mom. Fuck her."When Damien Rice and company appeared on stage, I was struck by their appearance. With Damien in a colorful, patchwork, tunic-type thing; cellist Vyvienne Long in a beautiful skirt; and waif-life Lisa Hannigan's hair hanging past the waist of her dark cords, the group looked more like misplaced hippies than a cohesive folk-rock band.

And while we're on the subject of appearances: Have you ever seen someone who's decent looking but really nothing special, and then seen them doing something they're quite gifted at (playing a sport, explaining a math problem, running a meeting, whatever) and been blown away by his or her sudden beauty? That totally happened to me. If you've heard a good amount of Damien's stuff, you probably noticed a girl singing occasionally. That girl is Lisa Hannigan. As soon as she came onstage, I was thinking that she looked just like this frigid bitch I knew in high school, except even more anorexic. As soon as Lisa sang, though, she made my list of most beautiful people ever. She was just that good—her voice is ephemeral yet enveloping, delicate yet strong. In short, she has the kind of voice you feel compelled to describe through insufficient paradoxes, like those I made you read in that last sentence. So I have a major girl-crush on her now, and you will too, if you ever see her sing. Back to the music: Rice, Long, and Hannigan—plus a bassist, a drummer, and an occasional guy on violin—played most, if not all, of Rice's full-length O, and then some. About halfway through the set, the three guys (Damien, bassist, drummer) took what I assumed was a cigarette break, since two of the three reappeared on the darkened stage with glowing cigarettes hanging from their mouths. During the guys' break, Long played cello and sang a cover of the White Stripes's "Seven Nation Army," while Hannigan accompanied on drums. And by "accompanied," I mean she hit the bass drum on the beat. No love lost, though—the girl can sing. Damien ended the set with "Cold Water," if memory serves, and then came back with an encore of "Cannonball" and "Eskimo."

After the show, I saw my friend Kasia Houlihan, a second-year who'd also gone to see the show. She mentioned the ambience of the theater, which—because of the crumbling paint, crooked chandeliers, and untidy stage—did indeed look rather thrown-together. The scenery was a great reflection of the mixed crowd, though. As Kasia put it, "rather than being a mass of similarly-aged and identically-clad individuals—like your teenie-boppers or your dread-locked potheads as is often the case at concerts—the audience was quite eclectic, populated by punksters, prepsters and leftover hippies alike."

It was nice to see a show with music that so many types of audience members could appreciate, but the large crowd did have a downside. My only disappointment of the night, in fact, was a result of the crowd, which was raucous between songs and—inexcusably—at the beginnings of and during quiet parts of songs as well. I was standing in the orchestra section, two rows of bodies from the stage, and the noise seemed to be coming from the mezzanine above. A clearly annoyed guy beside me asked rhetorically, "Who the fuck comes to a concert to talk?!" Shortly thereafter, Damien expressed a similar sentiment, but into the mic: "As for the people who are talking…they can just fuck off." I hope I'm not making him seem rude; the noise was killing the atmosphere, and his request met with cheers and applause.

Kasia, who was sitting in the mezzanine during the show, said the noise was coming from the people in the bar outside the auditorium, not from those in the mezzanine. That didn't change the fact that there was noise, though—and it certainly didn't change the fact that the noise continued after Rice's request for its cessation. Fast-forward two or three songs to "I Remember," which is perhaps my favorite Damien Rice song ever. Hannigan, whom I'm now totally mesmerized by, launched into the verse/chorus/verse/chorus combination that begins the song. After she finished the first verse, though, ending with "and time stopped moving," she stopped singing. Why? Because Damien (who'd been sitting on the floor, letting Lisa have the spotlight) stood up and spoke. "I've never done this before," he began, then proceeded to tell the noisy crowd that if they didn't shut up, he wouldn't want to continue the concert. The crowd was silent before Lisa began again with the "Want you here tonight, want you here" of the chorus.There are a few reasons I don't think alcohol should be served at concerts, including the inability of audience members to applaud without spilling their drinks, the encouragement of bad dancing, and the perpetuation of 21+ shows (which I won't be able to see for another three looong years). The number one reason, though, is noise. Once intoxicated, certain people somehow fall under the illusion that everyone around them has paid to hear them talk, rather than hear the performer sing—not unlike that guy from Hum class who thinks it's his job to educate the class. And that night at the Riviera, the lushes in the crowd were audible to even Damien on the stage. When he was delivering his ultimatum during "I Remember," Rice asked if anything could be done to help control the noise, like shutting down the mezzanine bar. This was among the best concerts I've ever been to, but seriously: When the Irish guy is asking to have the bar closed, you know something is wrong.