Singer-songwriter Damien Rice has fine-tuned the art of delivering his ardent, lovelorn folk gems to maximum heartrending effect. Last night was no different. Stepping onstage for the first of two sold-out shows at New York's Beacon Theater, Rice launched into a raunchy, angst-ridden rendition of "Woman Like a Man." An unexpected opening song — from a B-sides collection — set the tone for an intense evening. After tackling the first song solo, Rice was joined onstage by his band — cellist Vyvienne Long, drummer Tom Osander, bassist Shane Fitzsimons and vocalist Lisa Hannigan. Nonetheless, Rice's raw passion remained the focus of the evening. Hannigan, whose haunting vocals provide the feminine foil to Rice's songs, drew an adoring response every time she stepped up to sing. But she, too, hung back to let the spotlight shine on Rice.
From an unplugged version of "Cannonball" at the edge of the stage to the piano-based single "9 Crimes" and the quaint simplicity of "The Professor and La Fille Danse," Rice captivated the tipsy post-work crowd. At one point he even humored requests. "Damien!" hollered a fan between songs. "I'm Dan from Long Island, and a bit of 'Elephant' would be nice!" Rice chuckled, then said: "Your wish is my command" and launched into the audience favorite. He ended the set with a furious rendition of "Volcano" but returned for a triple-threat encore of songs from 9: the breakup anthem "Rootless Tree," electric guitar-infused "Me, My Yoke and I" and the delicate ballad "Accidental Babies."
"Do you really feel alive without me?" Rice sang in the last song. Judging from the spirited whoops that punctuated a standing ovation, the crowd's answer was no.