Review | Damien Rice battles the cattle mart at the Galway International Arts Festival

”Is this a concert or a cattle mart?”

In hindsight, Colm Mac Con Iomaire‘s unannounced support slot set the tone. The marquee was three-quarters full and his beautiful rousing compositions faltered due to a more audible noise coming from the ground. I was glad he was having his own GIAF-related set in the Roisin Dubh later on in the week.
Reviews from Damien Rice‘s Iveagh Gardens show suggested long anecdotes and wilful audience (silent) participation. He even performed ‘The Blower’s Daughter’ entirely unplugged, a neat trick employed by The National first seen by yours truly in the Olympia Theatre years ago. It’s the kind of thing that promotes intimacy. How disappointing, then, that tonight sees large pockets of the crowd chatter with abandon between and during Rice’s songs. So much so, just prior to performing ‘Eskimo’ five songs in, he was prompted to opine the above quote as to whether or not the throng were in the market for livestock. To which a large voice bellowed from the mid section, ”Open the bar!”, in reference to the fact that it closed at 9.30pm at Rice’s request. It’s a very Christy Moore move which is understandable because it would have been even worse had the ungrateful money-wasting bunch inside had more €5.50 Tiger beer inside them.
Unprecedented popularity since the release of O in 2002 breeds familiarity in Rice’s canon which makes for a double-edged sword; die-hards and those who come for That One Song. One woman nearby discussed anything but the gig throughout until her peripheral hearing picked up ”And so it is..” from the Kildare man’s mouth and she was off, having the time of her life. Rice was understandably disappointed by this, but he still performed with such grace and strength, showcasing his excellent song-writing in the barest sense, despite the din beneath. ‘Older Chests’ and ‘The Greatest Bastard’ proved futile excursions, only piercing above the audience in their strong choruses which raised both intensity and decibels. Blame the sound, blame the venue option over a more intimate setting (which I don’t buy as the guy has been doing festivals all year), you can only feel let down by the mood.
Rice was excellent. The punters, not so much. But there was still magic: ‘I Remember’ was an explosive opener with the kind of quiet loud-rage intact after all these years. Rice’s voice still has its frailty and there were genuinely tender and nostalgic moments when he and the the audience filled in for the lines originally committed by Lisa Hannigan. Same goes for ‘9 Crimes’. He phoned in ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Volcano’. Job done. Sure it’s enough. isn’t it? ‘It Takes A Lot To Know A Man’ provided a dramatic and sprawling set closer which had him layering guitars, drums, vocals and a clarinet to a sustained crescendo. Impressive stuff. With a wave and not one word uttered since cattlemart-gate, he was gone.
The Galway International Arts festival is still in full swing. Special mention of what I did see must go to the paintings of Varvara Shavrova in The Shed, and stunning drypoints by Louise Bourgeois in the city Museum. Full details here.