Sinead O’Connor has chosen to call her latest concerts the Crazy Baldhead Tour.
The funny name demonstrates the shaven-headed Irish star’s unadorned honesty. She’s often caricatured for her outspoken views and erratic behavior. Notoriously, she ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on television. More recently she has been open in discussing her bipolar condition.
Following a series of canceled shows, she has confirmed more dates for this year, including London’s Barbican Hall on March 27, a clutch of European appearances in April, and most recently the Bestival on the Isle of Wight in September.
O’Connor’s performances so far are a jumble of theology and profanity, a confusion of love, hate and slapdash improvisation. Her voice remains a torrent of clear spring water.
Low-key gigs in St. Lukes, a converted Hawksmoor church in East London, and at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room, give an idea of what is to come.
She is accompanied by the weaving folk of Robbie McIntosh’s acoustic guitar and the discreet sounds of Graham Henderson’s keyboard. She plays an additional guitar for some songs.
O’Connor has tattoos proud on her forearms, black jeans and well-worn t-shirt with a Rastafarian image.
The set is drawn largely from her most recent album “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?” John Grant’s “Queen Of Denmark” is an effective opening, the hushed intimacies giving way to full rock howl.
The breakup lyrics, bedeviled with dark humor, provide O’Connor with perfect material. She means it when she bellows “Why don’t you take it out on somebody else?”
O’Connor’s own songs are equally powerful. “Reason With Me” is a rare instance of a lyric about addiction that is neither sentimental nor patronizing.
The wedding story of “4th and Vine” swirls with uncomplicated joy: You want to hug O’Connor for the sheer pleasure of her singing it.
“I Am Stretched on Your Grave” transfixes. The bleak melody, drawn from Irish folk music, has the dancing vowels of O’Connor’s Dublin accent. The magic of her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” is still incomparable.
There are rough edges as O’Connor forgets lyrics and the occasional chord. She makes up for it by gamely singing admissions of her errors.
Her stage patter is engaging if eccentric: “Sinead, don’t tell that inappropriate joke going round your head now.”
She declares the garbled catcalls of one over-emotional fan as impenetrable as the Cockney accent of Fagin and promptly bursts into a snatch of song from the musical “Oliver.”
“Jeremiah” possesses a stark Biblical power. “Psalm 33” muddles Rastafarianism, Christianity and rock ‘n’ roll.
The final song is one taught to O’Connor by some monks of her acquaintance. It’s a simple prayer, like a lullaby: a final blessing for the night. Rating: ****½.
O’Connor’s April tour includes dates in the Netherlands, Italy, Austria and France with a full band.
Information: http://www.sinead-oconnor.com/ and http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=14112.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Good * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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