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Damien Rice Returns In Triumph

Whelan's in Dublin was the scene earlier tonight for an emotional gig by the enigmatic singer-songwriter – who promised that a new album is on the way, later this year

The Hot Press Newsdesk, 14 May 2014

Damien Rice made a triumphant return to the stage in Dublin earlier tonight. The singer-songwriter, whose independently recorded debut album O sold in excess of two million copies, and spawned numerous hits, played a powerful two and a half hour set in Whelan's, the legendary Dublin venue that played a crucial part in nurturing the singer-songwriter movement in Ireland. Whelan's is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The gig was announced less than a week ago and sold out within a minute. Tickets for the show were like gold-dust, as fans desperately sought to gain access to the 450 capacity venue. Despite failing to procure tickets, crowds gathered outside the venue tonight in the vain hope of picking up spares; none were forthcoming for a gig that is sure to go down in local music industry lore as one of the special ones.

For most of an enthralling and hugely generous 150 minute set, Rice performed alone with his guitar – though he was joined onstage, on and off throughout the evening, by percussionist Shahzad Ismaily. His sound was also embellished by the judicious use of pedals, adding colour and depth to the music. Along the way, he told an expectant crowd that a new record was almost ready. "We're currently mixing it," he said, adding that the final track selection had not yet been made.

One of the most emotional moments of a powerfully moving set came when Rice responded to a song-request from the audience. "I heard someone call out for 'Cold Water'," he said, before asking a female member of the audience, "was it you?" Following a brief exchange, during which it was established that the girl could indeed sing, Rice was joined onstage by not one fan but two – who between them handled what had been Lisa Hannigan's part on the original recording.

Making no concessions to unnecessary glamour, the singer was dressed in a green t-shirt and jeans. Looking lean and impressive, he performed at least three previously unreleased songs, and confirmed that – at long last, fans might reflect – he is gearing up for a new burst of musical activity.

Leaving the stage, the singer thanked the audience for coming. He doffed the cap to Whelan's for hosting the gig. And then he promised: "The album will be out in the autumn."

On tonight's evidence that is a prospect greatly to be anticipated. The word for now is that Damien Rice is back – and back to his best. Long may it continue...

Hot Press' Rosie O'Brien was there to snap all the action – click here for the full gallery

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