Controversial Irish singer delivers a mostly solid set of old and new favourites to adoring Toronto fans.
Music, Published on Sat Oct 25 2014
Sinéad O’ Connor at Massey Hall
Boy, have they missed her.
The moment the diminutive Sinéad O’Connor stepped on the Massey Hall stage on Friday night, she was greeted with a standing ovation so thunderous, she literally couldn’t start the show until the screams and applause died down a few minutes later.
Beaming at the unexpected reception, the controversial, head-shaved Irish singer and songwriter issued a few short curtsies and then gestured for the near-capacity crowd to settle down.
Then, with her five-piece band standing at attention, the 47-year-old O’Connor endeared herself even further by performing a solo, instrument-free version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” dedicated to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the Hamilton army reservist mercilessly gunned down on Capitol Hill earlier this week.
Her performance of the I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got classic she first recorded in 1990 revealed the full range of O’Connor’s extraordinary vocal abilities: her wide-ranging voice oscillated between loud intensity and breathless whisper, often within the same phrase, with enough gripping, dramatic effect that your ears were unable to resist being drawn in to catch every syllable.
“I Am Stretched On Your Grave” was a preview of what was to encapsulate the 75-minute show’s best moments: an enviable dynamic range that seemed to work best the more O’Connor was isolated from her bandmates.
Not that there was anything wrong with her accompanying lineup that included guitarist Brooke Supple, bassist Clare Kenny, keyboardist Graham Henderson: au contraire, they were technically strong, united, in sync.
From this reviewer’s vantage point on the first row of the lower balcony, the frustration came from O’Connor’s sound staff: her vocals were so under-mixed that whenever the band played full-tilt, the singer became the weakest link … not so great when O’Connor’s fans are paying good money to hear that inimitable voice.
And especially when the songs O’Connor chose to perform following the sarcastic “Queen Of Denmark,” “4th and Vine,” “Take Me To Church” — her moving declaration of independence — and “8 Good Reasons,” — scattered between her last two albums — I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss and How About I Be Me (And You Be You) — are lyrically intriguing.
O’Connor seemed to be aware of the problem, continuously fidgeting with her monitor control and conferring with her side stage sound man to the point of distraction (and one she apologized to the crowd for) and ultimately subtracted from the overall potency of her showmanship.
So, the barefoot O’Connor, dressed in her cleric collar (she’s an ordained minister), a Catholic cross necklace, a hybrid black/leopard spotted shirt and leather pants, was most effective when she accompanied herself on acoustic for her extraordinarily hypnotic and pensive ballad “Black Boys On Mopeds;” the a cappella “In This Heart,” which she dedicated to her mother, started solo and eventually had the whole band add their voices to; and the first encore of “Streetcars,” softly sung with even softer keyboard accompaniment by Henderson.
But she rocked out as well, with the audience particularly responding to the unleashed aggression of the pair of Do Not Want main set finishers — “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” — with more standing ovations.
If there was a disadvantage for O’Connor, it was that her audience seems to be aging with her: the majority of the crowd represented the late 30-through-50 age demographic.
It’s a shame that today’s youth are either unaware of her or ignoring her: still integral as an artist, songwriter, lyricist and performer, the outspoken O’Connor could teach them a thing or two.