mon 17/06/2024

Sinéad O'Connor, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Sinéad O'Connor, Royal Festival Hall

Sinéad O'Connor, Royal Festival Hall

Straight A's for Ireland's maverick daughter

O'Connor: Jah with a guitar

The words “breathe, breathe, pray, breathe” were written in 10-inch letters at her feet. She wore sunglasses to help with her shyness. But if O’Connor was struggling with the pressure of being up on stage it didn’t show in her performance. Off-stage she may continue to suffer with her emotional well-being, but, on stage, she’s on the form of her life. Last night, her dense, swirling thoughts were projected through a combination of intensity, humour and vulnerability.

It made for a superb evening.

O'Connor arrived on stage in combat trousers, a green army top and bobble hat. The tattoos on her arms, along with the sunglasses already mentioned gave her a kind of Big Issue chic. Yet, for all her eccentricity, Sinéad looked remarkably healthy. Her first words were about being a surprisingly nervous individual, for someone with such a “big fucking mouth”. They were echoed by the lyrics of the first song she performed, which spoke of “never having much self-confidence anyway”. Thereafter, though, she seemed nothing if not relaxed.

For some the most memorable moments seemed to be where Sinéad stood alone with her plainly-strummed guitar Throughout, O'Connor held the strikingly-diverse crowd rapt with her powerful sense of conviction and that instantly-recognizable voice. People speak of its cathartic quality but last night wasn’t just about being anguished or haunted. “4th and Vine”was jaunty and celebratory; “The Wolf is Getting Married” was straight pop; and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” got the front rows up dancing (interestingly with the middle-aged men standing up first).

Elsewhere, however, there was the predictable selection of the raw and intense, including explorations of God, society and frequent barings of Sinéad’s soul. From the album still ostensibly being toured - 2012’s How About I Be Me And You Be You - “Reason With Me”, “I Had a Baby”, and “V.I.P.” stood out. The first of those is a sympathetic yet disgusted portrayal of a junkie which she sang in a particularly creepy voice. The second started with the memorable lines “I had a baby/ and it looks just like me/ a bald-headed baby” and ended by musing on her mental health: “I wish I wasn’t so crazy.” And the last, sung over a single drone note, was a beautifully waspish homily on religious hypocrisy.

For the most part O’Connor’s band supported effectively and discreetly. They upped their presence on some numbers, for instance successfully giving a convincing dub underpinning to “Fire on Babylon” and making “4th and Vine” skip and jump. Less successful was the Jurassic synth sound that appeared during “Thank You for Hearing Me”.  

But for some the most memorable moments seemed to be where Sinéad stood alone with her plainly-strummed guitar directly connecting with the audience. And then there was a spellbinding a cappella reading of “In this Heart” starting with O'Connor arm-in-arm with bassist Clare Kenny and guitarist Brooke Supple, and which finished as a six-part harmony with the rest of the band all joining in.

The concert, unsurprisingly, ended in a prolonged ovation. The encore was in three parts: “V.I.P”, “Black Boys on Mopeds,” and then, after that, O’Connor explained as it was her last gig for a while she would indulge herself with her favourite original song, “(Psalm) 33”. “Sing to Jah with your guitar,” she sang. Amen to that.


Overleaf: Watch Sinéad O'Connor's video for "4th and Vine":

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