Here's a tip for touring musos planning a solo rendition of their best-known hit as an encore: rehearse the guitar chords a bit first. Especially when it’s the hymn-like Nothing Compares 2U.
OK so that's a cheap shot and a bit harsh after Sinead O'Connor had sung so flawlessly all evening, but the lack of basic preparation was bizarre.
Nevertheless, her audience loves her; for her no-nonsense delivery, for her scorching vocals that can soar and whisper, for her shaved-head-jeans-and-Tshirt honesty, for her awkward sexiness – and for her endearing confusion of strength and vulnerability.
She had warned the audience as she strapped on her acoustic guitar: "Don't get too excited; my guitar playing is about as good as my stage persona… ality… thingy…"
The crowd laughed along with her as she missed chord after chord, jokingly rewriting the lyrics to, "Girl you better get someone else to play guitar… "
And they cheered and forgave her when she finally gave up, mid-chorus, and abruptly ended the concert.
You’d think folk paying up to $125 a ticket might be a bit miffed, but O’Connor’s fans took it in their stride, and maybe loved her even a bit more for sharing her imperfections.
She had won Hamer Hall over when she opened with the bitingly funny Queen of Denmark – the scornful lyrics ringing out clearly before her five-piece band launched into full rock-band mode for the chorus.
The first half of her 90-minute set featured mostly songs from her latest album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss. There are some serious hits on it that bear repeat listening – Eight Good Reasons is right up there, as is Take Me To Church and the supercharged Harbour, which is an excellent vehicle for O'Connor's vocals, alternating between haunting hymnal and powerful rage. She really does fury extremely well, whether the anger is directed at the church, an ex-lover or the state.
Her near-solo rendition of Black Boys on Mopeds from 1990 was a highlight, however the pink and happy 4th and Vine shows she can do light and bubbly pretty well, too – and the a capella version of In This Heart, gradually joined by her backing band,was simply stunning.
As the 48-year-old mother of four prepares to be a grandmother, she seems more comfortable in her own skin. She dedicated Harbour to both her 18-year-old daughter and her future granddaughter – due in July by her 27-year-old son Jake (and his partner, presumably).
Compared to her 2011 performance in Melbourne for Seven Songs To Leave Behind, O’Connor looks and sounds fitter and stronger. She uses no special effects or fancy lighting and the music is left to speak for itself, which it does, mostly. My only beef would be the extreme use of pre-set backing tracks fed through the keyboards, which not only precludes any improvisation but also tended to drown out the five musicians actually playing live.
After more than an hour of politely sitting, the crowd jumped to its feet to dance in the aisles for The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, before calling her back for an encore that included a stripped-back version of Streetcars before the decidedly un-solemn rendition of Nothing Compare 2 U.
After three decades of making music, Sinead O’Connor is still firing on all cylinders and seems to be reaching a new peak with her 10th album, creating some soul-feeding, full-bodied music that is a joy to experience.
I’m sure she’ll sort out those chords soon, too.
Troubadour Music presents
I’m Not Bossy, I’m The BossSinead O’Connor
Venue: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 4 March 2015
Tickets: $125 – $79
Bookings: 1300 182 183
ALSO 2015 Tour
Port Fairy Folk Festival March 6 – 7
WOMADelaide, March 9
QPAC Brisbane, March 11
WOMAD festival, New Zealand, March 15
Sydney, March 19