If you’re one of those people who, as the sorry catalogue of institutional sex scandals continues to unfold, asks “Why did no-one speak up at the time?”, consider Sinéad O’Connor.
Twenty years ago she was one of the world’s biggest music stars, with her Prince-penned single ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and album ‘I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got’ topping charts around the globe. Bravely, O’Connor used her position to attempt to expose abuse in the Catholic Church and you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see what that did to her career. Tearing up a photo of the Pope in protest on American television in ’92 killed her success in the USA stone dead, and she’s still widely thought of as either mad or troublesome. Never mind the fact that she was proved to be right all along.
Still, a year since her tiny St George’s Church show, current album ‘How About I Be Me (And You Be You?)’ has returned O’Connor to the British charts for the first time in 19 years. Tonight’s concert is sold out, and that’s not just down to the Brighton Festival effect. People are genuinely thrilled that she’s back. When she opens with the bullish John Grant song ‘Queen Of Denmark’ those iconic eyes are hidden behind defensive dark glasses, but she’s happy, healthy and in excellent voice.
What we have tonight is O’Connor the survivor, the hit-maker, the star. With frequent dedications to Joan Of Arc, O’Connor leads her band through a wide-ranging show. Disappointingly, only ‘Jackie’ survives from her audacious debut ‘The Lion And The Cobra’, with the set weighted heavily between its best-selling follow-up and her bold new songs.
It’s when the polish of the six-piece band is stripped back that the music shines. ‘I Am Stretched On Your Grave’ is breath-taking, just O’Connor’s a cappella vocals, with a gentle ‘Three Babies’ and the complex harmonies of ‘In This Heart’ sounding a lot clearer than the full-bodied, if rapturously received, versions of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘Thank You For Hearing Me’.
Sunglasses abandoned at last, she returns with just her guitar and keyboardist for the encore. Ignoring audience hollers for ‘Mandinka’ or ‘Troy’, she gives us the spoken word piece ‘V.I.P’ and a solo spiritual, ‘33’. O’Connor called her recent run of dates the ‘Crazy Baldhead’ tour, but she’s firmly back in control.
Dome, Wednesday 8th May 2013
Words by Stuart Huggett
Photos by Mike Burnell