Photographs by Sean Chin.
I hope history is kind to Sinead O’Connor – she deserves it. Despite her versatility in musical styles (folk, rock, reggae, religious, etc.) and emotion (frail innocent to unbridled anger, sometimes within the same song) and a voice that has to be heard live to be believed, Sinead doesn’t seem to be garnering the respect she should, her personal life overshadowing that talent for a more sensational story.
Before her performance, Montreal native Leif Vollebekk set the mood for the night. He opened the show all by him self on stage, where he talked about how cool it was that Neil Young played at the legendary venue in the past. He has a really sincere voice and presence. And the crowd really embraced songs from his album North Americana.
In town last night to promote her recently released I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss, Sinead O’Connor packed the Massey Hall with fans of all ages, shapes and sizes. The last time I saw Sinead was 24 years ago at the same venue just as her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got with its ubiquitous Prince cover “Nothing Compares 2 U” was blowing up. That show remains my all-time favourite and was the most emotionally intense night of music I’ve experienced. A lot has changed since that tour, so I managed to keep my expectations in check.
But she managed to touch that emotional intensity right off the bat. After thunderous applause at her arrival on stage, Sinead dedicated a soaring solo a cappella version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo before kicking off her set. Lost in the press of her personal life is how powerful her pipes are and her tribute to the fallen soldier silenced the room.
From there, Sinead and her 5 piece band delivered around 90 minutes that focused mainly on her most recent musical output with a few offerings from her aforementioned breakthrough. The only “frills” for the show was Sinead’s dancing, which she probably should refrain from! She was shy and awkward 24 years ago and she still is today, although she does come across as more comfortable in her own skin, fully admitting her banter wasn’t going to be very good.
She doesn’t need banter, fancy lights or projections – she has that voice, and really it was the I Do Not Want cuts that highlighted said voice that drew the biggest response. Donning a 12-string guitar for “Black Boys on Mopeds”, Sinead warned that her guitar playing was as good as her banter. Not to fear, both were better than she seemed to be giving herself credit for.
The a capella “In This Heart” was another highlight as gradually the members of her band joined in and harmonized with the siren. She wrapped up her main set with her favourite track of the night with the heavy new “The Voice of My Doctor” before “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and a strangely celebratory “The Last Day of our Acquaintance”.
She returned with her keyboardist for a quick encore with a riveting “Streetcars” a definite highlight of the evening and her new album before closing the night with a solo a capella cover of Bob Marley’s “War”. There was no “Nothing Compares 2 U” or anything from The Lion & The Cobra, but she didn’t need it with such a stirring, well-paced set.
There are currently nominees for this year’s Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame with about half the rock and roll that Sinead’s spirit is. Fiercely political in song and stance long before it was fashionable, the fact Sinead is still standing and producing solid albums despite fierce adversity, is testament to her resolve. She’s my generation’s Patti Smith, fearless to speak her mind with a solid catalogue of music, and as long as she continues delivering sets like this, she may finally get the respect she is definitely due.