Monday, December 18, 2006

Damien Rice

"So, are you depressed enough yet?" Damien Rice asked 75 minutes into his surprisingly lively -- and lengthy -- two-hour set Saturday night at the Lincoln Theatre. Funny thing is, nobody was.

Although the two LPs and the B-sides collection that make up the forlorn Irish balladeer's U.S. catalogue are relentlessly minor-key affairs, his live show was a different beast entirely: generous, humorous, unpredictable and only occasionally meandering, with Rice's superb band a much stronger presence than on his sparely produced records. Singer Lisa Hannigan, especially, was a striking visual and musical foil; her voice, reminiscent of Sinead O'Connor's, offered haunting countermelodies to Rice's. When she took the stage two songs into the set, Rice's early tentativeness -- on "Delicate" and "Volcano" -- disappeared.

It wasn't just Hannigan -- Rice's entire five-piece band was in top form, helping the boss mostly avoid the preciousness to which sensitive alterna-folkies so often succumb. Up-tempo numbers such as "Woman Like a Man" and "I Remember" rocked harder then their too-polite recorded versions, courtesy of drummer Tomo. Cellist Vyvienne Long had a brief, lovely turn in the spotlight when she sang and played a solo-piano cover of the Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots."

If that wasn't enough to keep the increasingly rowdy audience guessing, Rice even ended the show with an attempt at a joke, downing two big glasses of red wine in quick succession as he stumbled around the lip of the stage and fumbled his way through an intro to "Cheers Darlin' " as the midnight curfew (which he'd pointed out shortly before) came and went.

Moments later, as the band wrapped up the number, Rice pretended to call a taxi to bring him home. At some point during the long evening, the sad-sack alterna-folkie had morphed into "Only the Lonely"-era Frank Sinatra. And if that isn't a compliment, I don't know what is.

-- Chris Klimek

Jen Gunderman And the Ornaments

If the balmy weather has prevented you from getting into the Christmas spirit, Friday's performance at Iota by the Ornaments would have done the trick. The makeshift band -- Last Train Home's trumpeter Kevin Cordt and a rhythm section of bassist Jim Gray and drummer Marty Lynds -- was fronted by former Jayhawks keyboardist Jen Gunderman, who played with aplomb for Peanuts.

In a bit of a musical stunt, Gunderman and company performed the soundtrack of 1965's TV perennial "A Charlie Brown Christmas" from beginning to end, to terrific effect. Beginning with "O, Tannenbaum" and all the way through to "Greensleeves," the band stayed faithful to composer Vince Guaraldi's jazz score, but with a little more swing.

The audience, captured by the moment, turned "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" into a spirited, all-out singalong.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company