- 28 Oct 19
The audience at a packed-out Vicar Street in Dublin was reminded just why we’re so lucky to have Sinead O'Connor – one of the greatest singers of her generation – back in our midst. By any standards, she delivered an extraordinary and wonderfully uplifting performance... Photo: Colm Kelly
Sinead O’Connor’s return to the live stage was always going to an emotive affair. Her show-stopping performance on the Late Late Show was a triumph, and Hot Press had been hearing good reviews coming down the mojo-wire after her performance in Cork Opera House the previous evening. Despite the endless stream of news headlines and discussions about her personal life, one thing that’s never been up for debate is Sinead’s incomparable voice.
Taking to the stage at Vicar Street, she wastes no time in firing into ‘Queen of Denmark’ – her spectacular interpretation of John Grant’s most eloquently brutal love/hate song, which she delivers it with precision.
The first part of her set lays out a compelling case for Sinead O’Connor’s more recent music. She moves beautifully from her (not Hozier's) ‘Take Me To Church’, with its U2-esque hooks and anthemic drum-beats, to the shuffling grooves of ‘4th & Vine’ – during which she lets loose, and dances uninhibitedly. After this comes the downtempo ‘Reason With Me’, a haunting tale told from the perspective of a drug addict, and a pointed indicator of how truly incredible Sinead O’Connor is as a lyricist. Then she gives us – and herself – a further opportunity to dance during ‘The Wolf Is Getting Married’, while her guitarist uses the opportunity to deliver a stunning solo.
At every quiet interval, shouts of “We love you Sinead” make their way onto the stage from earnest fans. She gives fleeting smiles back when this happens, but they feel genuine and appreciative.
The second part of the night sees Sinead take centre stage, with just her drummer and keyboardist helping her out for her uniquely strange, sparse rendition of ‘I Am Stretched on Your Grave’. She remains centre stage for the a cappella ‘In This Heart’, joined only by her backing singers.
It’s a cliché to say that each song feels better than the last, but whether the setlist was planned out with precisely this in mind or not, that’s exactly what this performance feels like: there is a steady build in intensity. The heart-rending, acoustic led ‘Black Boys On Mopeds’ has the straightforward, unambiguous poetry: “England is not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/ It’s the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds/ I love my boy and that’s why I’m leaving.”
Then there’s the similarly honest, unambiguous intent behind ‘Thank You For Hearing Me’. The lyrics are delivered like hands stretched out into the crowd. Sinead’s incantations of “Thank you for staying with me/ Thank you for staying with me…Thank you for helping me/ Thank you for helping me” sounding like they’re addressed to each individual member of the audience.
‘The Last Day of Our Acquaintance’ is really the first song in the set where a good portion of the crowd feels emboldened enough to sing along with Sinead. This sets us up for the song which follows it: Sinead’s utterly timeless rendition of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, delivered with such perfection that we’re back to watching her, shaven head, facing the camera in John Maybury’s music video back in 1990. We’re so entranced by this, that Sinead can ease her way into the first minute of ‘Hold Back The Night’ (shrouded in synth), before blowing us away with that song's endless crescendos.
The encore sees her return for ‘Three Babies’, where, again, it’s the lyrics that hit you in the back of the throat (“Each of my three babies/ I will carry with me/ For myself”). Then the show ends with ‘Milestones’, Sinead O’Connor’s newest song, produced by the inimitable David Holmes. The song is a cross-country, hallucinatory journey which both challenges and reaffirms the self, with its hair-raising final lyrics – “One day we’ll sit with our maker/ Discuss over biscuits and soda/ which one of you and me was braver/ Which one of us was a true soldier?” – lingering on after Sinead O'Connor, as casual as anything, departs from the stage.