Damien Rice unveils emotional yet oddball concert

The subtle and delicate locked lips with the blaring and cacophonous during Damien Rice's show Wednesday night at Liberty Hall.

Performing songs from his masterful U.S. debut "O," Irish singer-songwriter Rice, vocalist Lisa Hannigan, a cellist, bassist and drummer heralded that the evening would be an intimate affair before a note was even played.

The setting was lit with candles as the musicians crowded together in a semi-circle rather than using the expanse of the venue's stage. Upon entering, Hannigan immediately sat down cross-legged on the floor. After an acoustic-only intro by the scruffy-voiced Rice, the rest of the band filtered in. Then the harmonious, emotional ballads began to give way to extended jams, as on the band's signature single "Volcano."

Rice occasionally switched to a microphone that was set to distortion while he manipulated an array of effects pedals that his guitar was running through. At one point, he used the gear to simulate a booming sound a few decibels shy of a commercial jet landing on the venue's roof.

Even when these lingering improvisations and invasive gimmicks didn't wholly work, their presence at least prevented the evening from becoming routine.

At the core of Rice's material was his unique vocal interplay with the lithe Hannigan, who took lead on a number of tunes, often when the frontman became lost in his own guitar diversions. Both singers were so strong and so distinct that the very fact they continue to occupy the same band is a minor miracle.

Rice rendered some of the highlights from "O," including the emotionally spiraling "Amie" and the lovelorn "The Blower's Daughter." He also unveiled the self-effacing "Childish," which he introduced as a song that pokes fun at what it means to be a singer-songwriter.

That the bouncy anthem ended with a kazoo solo only added to the surreal fun.

Although Rice and company let the compelling music do most of the talking, he did take a few minutes to engage in some storytelling. He also spoke of what a great time he had in Lawrence, exploring the city and enjoying the beautiful day enough to "get some sun on my white Irish arms."

The evening's most amusing highlight was during the first encore when cellist Vyvienne Long performed a rendition of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes. Backed only by a kick drum beat, Long -- who never sang a note during the rest of the show -- took all the vocals while instrumentally turning the catchy triplet riff into an orchestral dirge.

It's hard to remember a show that effectively juggled elements of such musical beauty with others that nearly wandered into the realm of goofball performance art. The talent of Rice and his entourage fused these disparate themes into something utterly exquisite during their first visit to Kansas.


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