Sinead O'Connor at the El Rey Theater, Feb. 20, 2012
Mutya Bose

Sinead O'Connor at the El Rey Theater, Feb. 20, 2012

Sinead O Connor
The El Rey Theater
Feb. 20, 2012

Sinead O'Connor cuts a tragic figure. When she debuted The Lion and the Cobra in 1987 she blew everyone away with her anger, passion and intensity. Twenty-five years later, her extreme antics (tearing up a photo of the Pope, getting ordained as a priest, calling for lovers on her site) have turned O'Connor's image in popular media as a laughable caricature.

Maybe it's because O'Connor never did what people wanted her to; she didn't sell sex, or pander to popular political opinions at the time. And if you're a woman with a differing opinion--a real one with conviction, not an "express yourself" platitude a la Lady Gaga--well, you're setting yourself up for ridicule no matter what.

I blame the Internet, of course. O'Connor should never have been given access to it. It's so easy, when you see pictures of her gaining weight, or her Twitter feed, or articles on her marriage, to forget. Forget that she has an amazing voice that can bring you to tears in seconds. That goosebumps and prickly back-of-your neck hairs are de rigeur at her shows. That her songs are personal stories that mirror many of our lives. That she cares about her audience, very much. And that, 25 years after her powerful debut, O'Connor's voice is still so beautiful and pure. And that she is still very much capable of delivering a highly emotional and exciting show. 

Sinead O'Connor at the El Rey Theater, Feb. 20, 2012
Mutya Bose

Not that she got much help from her band. For some reason, her accompaniment last night sounded pedestrian; there was that wonky, plodding bass at every song, and rollicky piano playing, the flute we could barely hear. O'Connor carried the band and elevated the performance with her voice, but it was no wonder that the best songs of the night ("Never Get Old"  and "I am Stretched on Your Grave") were the ones she did without accompaniment.

But the setlist--an illustration of how O'Connor has evolved through the years, was perfect.
The newer songs are less hair-raising, and some are more sappy-ballad then others ("Old Lady," "4th and Vine"), but it showed that she'd mellowed through the years, and that was just fine with us. The exception was "Who is the Real V.i.P.?" off her latest set (her first in five years), How About I Be Me (And You Be You). It was a pointed jab at Bono and the like, and it made me look forward to the album immensely.  She also showed her sense of humor onstage, trading jokes and singing off the cuff to manage the crowd ("please stop it with the bottles/ I'm trying to sing a song/ I promise you it'll be better if you're quiet"). Right before going into "Nothing Compares 2 U" (which brought out the cam phones in earnest), she kept trying to wipe the smile off her face by saying, "OK, I have to try to be serious now."

And it was worth it when she did. For then, and for the minutes that she turned up the intensity, it was like being punched in the gut with teenage hormones and feminist rage again. It felt like O'Connor could protect us with her anger, and it felt good. It felt pure and safe. I didn't realize it at the time, but that's what I came for.

Critic's bias: I shaved my head when I was 15 to rebel against my Catholic schoolgirl upbringing, and in honor of Sinead O'Connor. And also, I may have shed a tear or two at the show.

The crowd: Super cute young gay dudes, cougars and couples who walked down the aisle to "Nothing Compares 2 u"

from a dude dancing like Stevie Nicks in the crowd: (Almost sobbing) "Oh my god this is just so's so beautiful...."

Random notebook dump: O'Connor showed up in a corset barely covering her gigantic tattoo of Jesus on her chest, and a suit jacket over it. She looked really good. I thought she'd gained weight in various papparazzi pictures taken recently, but she seemed as fit as she did 25 years ago.

Set List
1 Hallowed Ground
2 I Had a Baby
3 Emperor's New Clothes
4 Never Get Old
5 No Man's Woman
6 Jealous
7 The Wolf is Getting Married
8 Old Lady
9 Reason With Me
10 I am Stretched on Your Grave a capella, dedicated to Whitney Houston
11 Three Babies
12 Red Football
13 Petit Poulet, dedicated to Bobbi Kristina
14 4th and Vine
15 The Lamb's Book Of Life
16 Nothing Compares 2 U
17. Last Day of Our Acquaintance
18 Run Come (Throw Away Your Stoney Heart) (cover song, originally by Ras Michael & The Sons of Negus)
 19 What is a Real VIP?
20 Jackie
21 prayer


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