A Day in New York and a Damien Rice Concert

I always love a good concert, but when that show is in New York City it’s always a little bit better.  I think a large part of it is due to the mood you adopt heading into the concert when you have time to check something out, whether it’s a movie or a museum, take a refreshing walk, and consume some of the best food (and whatever cuisine you can think of).  One big problem is that you want to do so many different things that indecision sets in and makes life difficult.  Or, you might have the tendency to squeeze too much into the day and be dissatisfied.  I think Heidi and I have managed to do both of those things on various trips and outings so before heading out, and this goes for any kind of trip, you need to decide what kind of venture you want to have.  It keeps you focused on enjoying yourself and doesn’t let you or your partner (or whomever you’re traveling with) expect something different and be disappointed.  We decided that this trip was going to be one that we would simply take it easy and see where the day took us.  Besides, we were arriving in the afternoon and running immediately to see or do an activity didn’t appeal to us.  And we were seeing Damien Rice perform that evening.

Damien Rice Ticket

As you’ll notice from the date, I’m terribly behind with some of these posts.

Recently I’ve taken to simply driving into the city and parking.  After a couple years of traveling on the Metro-North rail line from New Haven, CT to classes at NYU and dealing with late service, cars with no heat (in winter), cars with no air conditioning (in summer), and a variety of other mechanical problems that make you wonder where all the money from tickets go, it’s hardly surprising that I’d boycott such a transportation service.  I’m not complaining about a once-in-a-while thing nor am I the only one.

Driving into NYC and finding parking isn’t nearly as difficult or challenging as one would think.  I’m not talking about heading into Manhattan (although even that is tolerable), but any of the other boroughs have plenty of street parking as long as you’re fine with a little walk.  I’ve done it the last few times I’ve gone to the city and haven’t had any problems deciphering the street signs or finding a reasonably close space.  Brooklyn has been my borough of choice and where the last few events I’ve gone to have taken place so it’s made sense to park there.  It doesn’t matter where you park as public transportation is prevalent, easy to find, and simple to use.  I’d recommend it even if you’re heading to another part of the city.

So we arrived and parked without incident, and prepared for nothing except to go for a good walk.  I’d never walked across any of the NYC bridges and it was always something I wanted to do.  Perhaps out of all the things you can do in this amazing city it’s a pretty weird desire, but something I wanted to cross off my bucket list.  We made our way across the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan, stopped at a “gastropub,” Spitzer’s Corner, refreshed ourselves, took in some people watching, got in a deep conversation about education, and ultimately realized that we wanted to get some kind of delicious food, but couldn’t decide what we craved.

Williamsburg Bridge

Walking across the Williamsburg Bridge.

We continued our stroll and stumbled upon a tapería called Macondo.  Yes, we found the lost town of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and we were glad it had a second opportunity on earth.  Not ones to argue with fate, or tapas, we entered and were intrigued by the Latin American menu.  Several croquettes and empanadas later we knew we had made a good decision.  We wondered if it was possible to simply design a trip somewhere entirely for food and shun all other attractions.  We had a concert to attend later which negated this trip from qualifying, but we concluded it was a reasonable thing that people (ourselves) should do more often.

We continued our food tour and split an arugula and prosciutto pizza at Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria, a place I had been to once or twice in my NYU days.

We headed over to the venue after we concluded we had consumed all that we could manage.  The show was general admission so this required the ability to stand.  The concert was at the Warsaw, a small club in Brooklyn.  It is a Polish community center and consists of a large hall, bar, and cafeteria-type area that made pierogies (believe me, we wanted to, but refrained).  There was no opening act, which was unsurprising given the late start time of 9pm, and it was only Damien Rice performing solo with no backing band.

The tour we were seeing Rice on was a short jaunt to support his newest album, My Favorite Faded Fantasy (for my review of the title track, click here).  He was playing only a handful of North American dates before heading to Europe for a few shows.  I’m assuming he’ll do a more expansive tour in the near future.  I was fortunate we got tickets as he was playing in only small venues, but after much persistence, I was able to get tickets to the show.  I try to avoid StubHub or any ticket brokers.  I’ve never purchased tickets from any place other than the venue or the authorized ticket seller.  I feel very fortunate in the shows I’ve been able to see without resorting to that and I think knowing when things go on sale, when additional tickets are released prior to the show, and being patient and checking often pays off.

It was also interesting that this show fell in between two dates at The Box in Brooklyn.  It would appear that Rice (or, more accurately, his management) intended to book three consecutive shows in NYC, but the venue could only accommodate two of the dates, making the Warsaw show a bit of an outlier.  I felt bad for the road crew who had to set up at one venue, pack it all up, set up at another, and then return the original venue.  Granted, Rice only appeared to have a piano and one guitar so there can’t be that much equipment they are responsible with transporting.

Anyway, we were there, felt fortunate, had a great day, and were looking forward to the show.  I had only seen Rice once before when he opened for Fiona Apple in Boston back in 2006.  The concert was a bit of a mixed bag, not because of Rice but because of torrential downpours that affected his set and Davíd Garza‘s.  It was good to see him as the headliner, and one where the weather wouldn’t be a factor.  Heidi had never seen Damien Rice play so I was excited for her as well.

Damien Rice's Stage Setup

Waiting for the show to begin.

We were packed in the ballroom, lights went down, and Rice came out.  He started to play one of his new songs, “The Greatest Bastard,” and I was ecstatic.  It’s easily one of my favorites from the new record and one of the songs that appeared in his sets well before it was to appear on his album.  There were some great versions that I had played on YouTube many times.

Rice immediately had the audience in his palm after the raw emotion of “The Greatest Bastard” as he led into “Volcano” and “Delicate,” two songs from his debut, O.  There was much singing from the audience, prompted by Rice who divided the audience into stage right, stage left, and the back to sing along.  I love audience participation because it really establishes a sense of community and changes the mood of the show.  It also buys the performer the ability to play songs or try things they might not normally do because they’ve invested in you by giving you some well-known tunes and included you in them.  I think a lot of live music is based on this format of give and take, with the performer giving you the “popular” songs in exchange to play newer material or rarer songs that might not necessarily win an audience over.  I hardly see someone perform where I don’t know their entire catalog, but there are plenty who attend shows that are not devout fans and it’s important for a musician to strike a balance.

This became clear to me in a tangible way when Rice next performed “The Box” and stated that no one could sing along to it because it was going to be released on his new album.  However, this was another one of the new tracks that he began performing well before the announcement of a new album and there is a beautiful version online.  I sang quietly to myself/mouthed the words and overheard someone say, “Well, he knows it.”  I think it’s a compliment, but probably reveals the obsessive nature of my musical loves.

Rice next performed one of my favorite songs, “Woman Like A Man,” a b-side that is probably the closest he’s come to writing a straightforward rock song.  It features a decent amount of obscenity and crude language delivered with power chords that contrast sharply to the softness Rice usually emits.  A great song to get loose to.

This established a wonderful contrast and highlighted Rice’s versatility as a songwriter when he played the only song he’d perform on piano, “9 Crimes.”  It’s a quiet tune about guilt and cheating.  It was also a song that heavily featured Lisa Hannigan‘s vocals, Rice’s former lover and band mate.  Her absence lingers heavily over his new material and this is clear when he performed a lovely version of “My Favourite Faded Fantasy.”  I’ve written extensively about the track and his past with Hannigan in a previous blog entry.  He nailed the high vocals of the song and didn’t once make me think about the lavish production on the record with this distilled live version featuring only his voice and a guitar.

Rice performed a few more tracks from his first two albums, including “Elephant” after some requests from the audience.  The majority of the set concentrated on the first album, which was cool, but then another microphone appeared on stage and it was clear that the concert was moving into another realm.

Special guests are people that make some shows really interesting.  It depends on who else you like to listen to and how well they fit with the performer.  I’ve seen some special guests that some people would flip out over.  For instance, Ace Frehley from KISS showed up to a Pearl Jam date in NYC to play “Black Diamond.”  Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  Did it blow me away?  No.  Would I have rather heard a different song?  Probably.  So, surprise appearances can be a mixed bag, but certainly change the dynamic of the show by making anything possible.  The lights went out completely, but in the dark we’d hear who was there before we were able to confirm it visually.  It took no more than a few syllables sung before I realized who was on stage: Glen Hansard.  We’d seen Hansard open for Eddie Vedder three times on his solo tour to support his Ukulele Songs album.  We had also seen him perform at Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary festival.  Heidi also has a huge crush on him.  I have my own so we’re even.

Hansard and Rice performed Leonard Cohen‘s seminal “Hallelujah.”  It was a moment of incredible beauty that captured a gorgeous song performed by two artists who carry the torch of Cohen’s unique blend of struggle, celebration, and gloom.  Hansard continued the encore for Rice (even using his guitar!), who retreated backstage, leaving him to perform a new composition, “Winning Streak.”  I had to look the song up because it was so good.  I was convinced I’d heard it before and sure it was a Bruce Springsteen or Van Morrison song.  It was Hansard’s and spoke volumes to illustrate his influences and how well he channels his musical idols.

Another encore began and the excitement rose as the audience knew Hansard couldn’t very well be the end to a Damien Rice show.  Rice emerged and played “The Blower’s Daughter” with all the proper majesty the song encapsulates.  Then something incredibly special and uncommon happened.  Rice and Hansard performed “The Auld Triangle,” an Irish ballad set in a prison that incorporated audience participation as Rice had done at the beginning of the show.  It was a song that Rice and Hansard had performed before while busking in Ireland.  It was unquestionably a marvelous end to the show.  Hansard helped the audience along with the lyrics and melody.  The show may have been Damien Rice’s, but Hansard brought his laudable levity to the concert and lifted the mood into a celebration of the art of music and song.  This is not to slight Rice in any way, he was personable and, dare I say, fun.  But Rice’s songs are intensely intimate and Hansard brings an element of communal recognition of shared experiences and unfettered joviality to the mix.  It left the audience, and us, elated, walking away on a cloud.

We hung around outside the venue for a bit.  I’ve never been one to try to say hello or get a signature, but we were swayed by some friendly individuals who convinced me that Glen Hansard would love my Pearl Jam shirt.  We waited for a while and then decided we’d rather get on the road for the long ride back.  We couldn’t ask for more.  It was a fantastic day and a flawless concert.  I’m picky about sets, but there were no weak points and I loved everything that was played.  I can’t complain about more songs because, well, I’ll always want more songs.  It confirms that I had a good time.

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