Sinéad O'Connor at Róisín Dubh, Galway review: 'Incredible - every heart in Galway was breaking with her'
Sinead O'Connor started her Irish tour in Róisín Dubh in Galway last night. Barry Egan was there.
Into the West. In the mystic. Sinead O'Connor's show last night at Róisín Dubh in Galway was something of an event, not just in the west but in Ireland and further afield too. This was because in a small venue on Sráid Dhoiminic Uachtarach , Sinead — I am loath to call it a comeback — made a welcome return.
One of greatest female singers, along with Dollie O'Riordan, this nation ever produced had come back from the wilderness. The healing had begun, for her as much as us.
Hearing her sing Black Boys On Mopeds, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, Jealous — and, of course, Nothing Compares 2 U — was as emotional and therapeutic for the audience last night as it was for Sinead maybe.
Sinead performed these songs like her very life depended on it. You wouldn't be overstating it, to say that Sinead sang her heart out, because she simply doesn't know any other way.
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It is difficult to describe what Sinead O'Connor's voice does without sounding like Seamus Heaney on LSD, but words like sacred, mystical, transcendent, other-worldly, ethereal, celestial, spring to mind.
Her voice is as Irish as the soil. Philip King put it best when he said a few years ago: "I don't think she would sound like that if she wasn't an Irish singer. On one level, in the aftermath of the peace process in the North, the crises in the church and the economy, she is among the people in the vanguard of reforging Ireland, kicking down the sandcastles. And she is also an Irish singer on that other level: in her search for authenticity, the way she sings because she has to."
And then: "There is no voice quite like hers. It is the most perfect of all instruments. When she sings, she goes to another place, and takes you with her – she opens herself up, and she opens you up."
Opening herself and the audience up along with her last night with personal prayers to inner pain like The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance and Jealous, Sinead awakened something deep within the crowd as well as herself.
She sang rapturously-received versions of the songs we loved and grew up on. Her voice was never more emotive as when she sang Jealous, passionately evoking Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush as well as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and Maud Gonne. This was more than singing; it was leaving herself naked to reveal the deep, lacerating, emotional scars:
"I would've stayed if you'd wanted
Would have been willing
But you said I treat you so badly I can't be forgiven
You know I would have done anything
To make it through with you
But I don't deserve to be lonely
Just 'cause you say I do," she sang.
Some of us might have felt a little uncomfortable to be present for something so personal and painful but such honesty and pain and truth is embedded in the DNA of Sinead's songwriting. That's why we love her the way we do. We bleed with her. It was almost ceremonial, almost religious.
Caroline Sullivan wrote in the Guardian in 2015 that Sinead "remains a singular character, conjoining sacredness and earthiness". You could sense that last night in Galway. That sacredness was very present, while the playful earthiness emerged when a woman approached the stage and shouted up for Sinead to perform The Foggy Dew. "Will you ever feck off," Sinead replied light-heartedly.
At 8.30pm, she came onstage to eardrum-denting applause. She opened with a cover of John Grant's 2010 song Queen Of Denmark. We were mesmerised all too magnificently when, after telling the crowd "sing along if you know the words", Sinead sang the words to us anyway...
"You put me in this cage and threw away the key
It was this 'us and them' shit that did me in
You tell me that my life is based upon a lie
I casually mention that I pissed in your coffee."
Urine in cappuccino aside, the electricity Sinead created across the venue was astonishing. It was remarkable to be in the room with this incredible woman, this incredible performer during Queen of Denmark. Next up was Take Me To Church which was just as powerful as she sang:
"I don't wanna love the way I loved before
I don't wanna love that way no more
What have I been writing love songs for?
I don't want to write them anymore."
Wearing dramatic nails and a black hijab, Sinead then sang 4th & Vine (from her 2012 album How About I Be Me (and You Be You?) about putting her pink dress on, doing her hair up tight, putting her eyeliner on and looking "real nice". She danced in her shiny leather boots.. Sinead was also wearing a smile a mile wide.
On the next song Reason With Me she sang about not wanting to waste the life God gave her and "let's reason together".
This was followed by The Wolf Is Getting Married with Sinead lost in an reverie where she sang, "your laugh makes me me laugh, your smile makes me smile." All this again with a big smile. I have known Sinead off and on since 1987 and I have never seen her in such a good place emotionally. That said, this goes with a vulnerability in her performance that is beautiful to be close to; especially on Jealous and then when she sang I Am Stretched On Your Grave (from 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got album) with an echo effect:
"I am stretched on your grave
And will lie there forever
If your hands were in mine
I'd be sure we'd not sever
My apple tree my brightness
It's time we were together
For I smell of the earth
And am worn by the weather."
The hip-hop break-beat you expected to kick in never kicked in and Sinead sang the whole song a cappella. It was magical . At that moment, we went into the mystic, into the West.
We had barely a moment to catch our breath when she was into the racism-and-Maggie Thatcher-nailing Black Boys On Mopeds from 1990's The Lion In The Cage album:
"Margaret Thatcher on TV
Shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing
It seems strange that she should be offended
The same orders are given by her," she sang last night of a black twenty-one year old boy Colin Roach who was shot to death by British police in 1983; he was chased when the police assumed his moped, which he was riding, was stolen, because of the colour of his skin.
You would be mistaken to assume that was in any way a sombre, even preachy performance. Sinead's natural light-heartedness was provided after Black Boys On Mopeds, "What is it now?" she asked. "In This Fart?" She joked before starting into In This Heart from the 1994 album Universal Mother. She sang it a capella again.
'Til I Whisper You Something (from 2000's Faith & Courage album) came next with everyone in the venue dancing along to the beat, with Sinead leading the dancing from the stage as she sang:
"I know you've every right to feel grief
You've not had anything that u need
But u put your head on my shoulder
'Til I whisper u something
'Til I whisper u something."
Sinead, our Sinead, danced even more energetically on the next song Harbour, followed by Thank You For Hearing Me. "Thank you for loving me." Sinead didn't need to thank us. We already loved her.
Then before we had time to readjust, or go to the bar, Sinead was off and running into The Last Day Of My Acquaintance from the 1990 I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got album. It was - woah woah woah! - wonderful yet again to be in the same small area with a woman who was transmitting such pain, such vulnerability. Has there ever been a song as raw as when Sinead delivered these autobiographical words last night?
"This is the last day of our acquaintance
I will meet you later in somebody's office
I'll talk but you won't listen to me
I know what your answer will be
I know you don't love me anymore
You used to hold my hand when the plane took off
Two years ago there just seemed so much more
And I don't know what happened to our love." It was like reading her diary.
The song didn't stop. It segued straight into The Emperor's New Clothes from the same album, in which Sinead sang that "he thinks I just became famous/And that's what messed me up/But he's wrong/How could I possibly know what I want/When I was only twenty-one?"
Sinead, now 52, was the queen of everything she surveyed last night in Galway. And witty with it;" I want to jump up and down but I can't because I f***ed up my back," she told the crowd. Then in the next breath she said, "I know nobody knows this song. Then she sang :"It's been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since you took your love away." Every heart in Galway was breaking with her. Sinead then disappeared offstage, only to reappear a minute later for Never Get Old from her debut album, 1997's The Lion & The Cobra. Rolling Stone magazine in January, 1988, in its review of the album described it as "blending the uncompromising force of folk music, the sonic adventurousness of the Eighties and lyrics that draw on classical history, ghost tales and the Bible."
Three decades on, Sinead is more than ever an uncompromising force.
"Young woman with a drink in her hand
She likes to listen to rock and roll
She moves with the music
Cause it never gets old
It's the only thing
That never gets old." Sinead sang before announcing: "This is our last song of the night and I hope you enjoyed you enjoyed yourselves. Thank you." Then she went into new song Milestones, singing to a spellbound audience that she "slept outside in the dog shed/Because you wouldn't let me keep my iPad/I've had less rights as a woman, then the dog is my eternal form/And it remains the same, yes it remains the same/Let's start with the name/You can shove it where you keep all your pain."
She was, in a word, incredible last night. The critics can shove their rote cliches where they keep all their negativity about Sinead O'Connor.