Arts & Culture

Review: Damien Rice at South Side Ballroom

Damien Rice performs at South Side Ballroom on Aug. 12, 2015.
Damien Rice performs at South Side Ballroom on Aug. 12, 2015. Special to DFW.com

Eight years slipped by since Damien Rice last stood on a stage here.

But as he began his set, it was as if no time had passed at all.

“It’s been quite a while since I played here,” Rice observed at one point. “Thanks for remembering I existed.”

In a neat trick, Rice began his roughly two-hour performance Wednesday with Cannonball, the final song of his last performance in Dallas, at the Majestic Theatre in May 2007. (For those who missed out on tickets, Yahoo! Music live-streamed the show.)

Whether his choice was intentional or merely happenstance, it gave the evening the sensation of a conversation picking up right where it left off.

The Irish troubadour’s long absence wasn’t just on the road, but on record store shelves as well.

My Favourite Faded Fantasy, the follow-up, released late last year, to his 2006 sophomore album 9, took the better part of the last decade to create, and its material provided some of the night’s most compelling moments.

Wreathed in smoke and standing alone, beneath glaring spotlights, before a sold-out, largely respectful crowd, the 41-year-old Rice’s songs — often as spare and hard as bone — served to excavate his soul, reaching into the unknowable darkness and hauling up all the things most of us would rather forget.

“We can’t take back/What is done/What is past,” Rice sang during the droning, hypnotic, seven-minute epic Trusty and True, his hands working a harmonium as he leaned in, the words slipping out from between his teeth, “so lay down your fears.”

Before True, Rice indulged in a monologue about his childhood, and the journey of self-discovery resulting in, as he put it, “the unveiling of a bunch of stuff.”

“So much of it was based in feeling guilty,” he explained — a description that could well apply to most of Rice’s catalog.

His intense brand of folk — there are shards of punk fury nestled in there, but he often wields his scalpel delicately, leaving listeners bleeding from a thousand scarcely perceptible slits — traffics in a bracing honesty not often found in artists making music anywhere near the mainstream.

Media designed for mass consumption is, broadly speaking, built on the idea of escape, losing yourself and forgetting about whatever troubles might be preoccupying you.

But music can also confront you, take you by the shoulders and shake you up.

As Rice built It Takes a Lot to Know a Man up to an explosive climax — layers of his voice, guitar, finger cymbals and clarinet creating a mesmerizing cacophony — he, at one point, pulled his acoustic guitar up very close to his face and sang directly into the sound hole.

Time, for a moment, seemed to stop.

It was as if Rice was singing directly into himself — the guitar an extension of his body, his thoughts and feelings: “It takes a lot to give, to ask for help/To be yourself, to know and love what you live with,” Rice sang.

His lyrics hung in the air, bearing the weight of all that time away, but also, the heft of wisdom.

Here’s hoping it’s not so long before the conversation — so fascinating and invigorating and moving — picks up again.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones

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