Sinéad O’Connor review – vocal power with vulnerability

Barbican, London
O’Connor’s remains a singular character, conjoining sacredness and earthiness in a set that spans nearly every filament of her career

It takes a certain courage for a singer who is not yet 50 to announce on stage that she’s about to become a grandmother, but Sinéad O’Connor has been there, done that and literally got the T-shirt. It’s purple and says “Grandma” on it, with a pink star beneath the word. Halfway through her set, she gestures at it and says: “I’m wearing this T-shirt because it’s all about being a granny.” As the audience “aaaah”s, she adds: “This song’s for my little grandchild.” It’s The Healing Room, a burnished country-rock track that starts with the lyrics, “I have a universe inside me / where I can go, a spirit guides me.”

As both granny-to-be and artist of 30 years’ standing, O’Connor is a singular character. Few other singers so seamlessly conjoin sacredness and earthiness: even when grumbling about ill-fitting in-ear monitors or dedicating Dark I Am Yet Lovely to “a certain gorgeously smelling man I met recently”, she exudes an otherworldly aloofness. It’s magnified during a solo acoustic segment. Singing Black Boys on Mopeds – which fetches the loudest applause of the night for its first line: “Margaret Thatcher on TV, shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing” – she’s vulnerable yet untouchable.

But she’s also human. When the guitarist and keyboardist come up front for a shivery a cappella In This Heart, she slips her arms around them and holds on. Her voice has grown stronger, endowing her with a gospel singer’s forcefulness – at times she holds the microphone a foot away and is more than audible, her vocal power contrasting with her vulnerability. A cover of John Grant’s Queen of Denmark switches from a lullaby to an anguished, guitar-bashing roar.

This one-off show takes in nearly every filament of her career, through to recent mid-tempo rock album I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss. Each track she revisits reminds you that she herself is a great one-off.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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