A Stunning Show

As a songwriter best known for wry, acoustic, delicate tales, you may not think that Damien Rice could hold the attention of an arena crowd, let alone rock them giddy, but this is exactly what he does.

Interrupting his opener, 'The Professor' because he could see too many security staff still ushering members of the audience to their seats, Rice somewhat precociously starts again after a short break, however it's with the audience's full blessing as applause breaks out amongst those also fed up of standing up every five seconds to let someone into their seat.

Rice is a cocky character, full of cocky banter and stories behind his tunes that last almost as long as the songs themselves, songwriting, he remarks, is to him rather like "taking a shit"; a device he uses to rid himself of all the vitriol and unwanted emotions of day to day life. It may destroy the enigma of the songs a little to learn their back stories (most often about sex), for example the lilting, 'Amie', Rice informs us, is based on a letter a friend wrote about being "pissed off" and going to visit a female friend who wouldn't sleep with him. It's not the most eloquent tale, and Rice has rather too many of these handy friends, but it's also nice to see someone who's down to earth and genuine with a crowd, rather than filled with lofty grandeur.

In the live arena Rice's passionate stories are really brought to life with thundering crescendos and plenty of violent guitar jams performed under blood red light, or silhouetting Rice's lonesome figure against the massive backdrop. There's a real lease of life given to each tune that distance it from its album version; surprisingly one of the most vigorous numbers, 'Rootless Tree' for example, is paired down and performed by Rice on piano. There are further jokes about the Scottish accent and, despite them being a fair distance away, plenty of interaction with the crowd.

The encore of 'Unplayed Piano', dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, while video footage of the Burmese politician runs across the screens is poignant, as is the visual feast laid out in 'Cheers Darlin'', as Rice recounts the tale behind the song involving yet another acquaintance being let down by a woman complete with snow, a scenic lamppost and a bar tender equipped with a ready supply of red wine. A cheeky invitation for the crowd to come down to the front sees the Rock Steady stewards flooded by an audience eager to leave the stiff formality of seats and share their joy with the singer; a fine way to end a fabulous evening.