At first listen, Sinéad O'Connor doesn't sound like the kind of music I should be writing about here. But as proven at her recent show at the Highline Ballroom, the Irish firestarter is as iconoclastic as metalhead I've ever admired. It's easy to see why Kirk Hammett and John Lamacchia are outspoken fans, or why she would cover Nirvana and publicly stick up for Axl Rose.
As with Cobain or Axl, going into a Sinéad show means not knowing if you're going to get one. Seconds after the lights dimmed and the band assembled, the venue's promoter took the mic and introduced himself. "Sinéad asked me to read this note to you all," he said, delivering a message that she'd come down with laryngitis and was apologizing in advance for any singing defects. I braced myself for a shortened set at best and an onstage meltdown at worst.
Seconds into her first song, I had stopped worrying. She had already leveled the entire room with her voice, carried out over some beautifully arranged songs of turmoil, love and religion. The crowd was jigging to "The Emperor's New Clothes" and anguishing over "Never Get Old." She dedicated her next song to the late Whitney Houston and sang "I am Stretched on Your Grave" a cappella. No one else in the room could make a sound.
For an artist who isn't known for her restraint, O'Connor's setlist showed a shrewd grasp on her spotty catalogue. She played half of her classic I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, revived "Jealous" and "The Lamb's Book of Life" from the underrated Faith and Courage and even treated us to a few numbers from her mesmerizing debut, The Lion and the Cobra. Still more of the set was from her new album, which the singer renamed "How About I Be Me and You Fuck Off" to the audience. I wasn't expecting much, but I purchased it the next morning.
Lest we think that she had found peace, Sinéad the performer still exhibited the impulsiveness that nearly exiled her from the music industry. She couldn't let the forceful "No Man's Woman" go without commenting on the irony that she's been married four times, and she even interrupted "Three Babies" to apologize for farting. Her band, a diverse cast of talented players and singers, respectfully smiled and kept their poise.
Not much can be written of O'Connor without mentioning "Nothing Compares 2 U," the hit that made her a worldwide star but also will also be her defining moment for the rest of time. I wouldn't blame her for never wanting to play it again, but she performed it with a passion that would overwhelm the prowess of nearly any other singer. I barely had time to collect myself before she ended her set with "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance."
If that was laryngitis...
The openers, Staten Island's PS22 Chorus, were apparently tracked down by Sinéad after she saw their performance of "Jackie" on YouTube. Their covers of Adele and Whitney Houston songs were perfectly aww-inspiring.