Photo by Kevin Yatarola
Capitol Theater: 09/20/07
I remember hearing Damien Dempsey’s album Seize the Day and not connecting with its dominant theme of Celtic pride but as he takes the stage, a man and an acoustic guitar standing alone against an audience anticipating Sinead O’Connor I can’t help but notice that there is something captivating about him. His introduction of each song is humorous, filled with wisdom and hope. The music, certainly you’d have to label him Celtic folk, but he isn’t so much a protest singer as he is a preacher of optimism in the face of despair. He laughs, we laugh with him. He laments his schedule of non-stop performing through Christmas with a smile, recounts waking up four days previous in a hotel room with a half-eaten sandwich and an open bag of potato chips as a Homer Simpson moment before strumming his way through another quiet anthem of overcoming the struggle of poverty. A cello player joins him and then O’Connor’s entire band to finish off the all too brief set with a sound reminiscent of Mike Scott’s “big music.”
It has been over a decade since I last saw Sinead O’Connor in a London park with a massive crowd of half-drunk Brits--quite a different arrangement from the beauty of Capitol Theater and the well-behaved, if not a bit disappointingly sparse, crowd. Yet the set starts off in a similar manner with “Emperor’s New Clothes.” Yet this is clearly a different Sinead. Twenty something years into her career, she appears comfortable, less angry. She doesn’t stalk the stage, instead allows her voice to fill the building. Sometimes I forget how beautiful her voice truly is. Even for a long-time fan, it is hard not to see Sinead as an opinioned activist first and singer second but stripped of distraction, I’m enraptured by that voice. She dedicates “Stretched on your Grave” to the dead who are present, part humor part sincerity. “You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart” is absolutely brilliant. She speaks of her fascination with televangelists, time spent living in Atlanta before launching into “The Lamb’s Book of Life.” Throughout the set, she touches on old material, new material, singles and lesser album tracks weaving stories and observation between. When a man rushes up to take her picture between songs, she turns around and sticks out her butt. Laughing, she recounts how a year earlier she recounts how while giving birth the year before under the influence of the various medications she insisted that her boyfriend take pictures of her butt. While some might be unable to balance this image next to the young woman on Saturday Night Live ripping up a photo of the Pope it seems natural to me. Even an opinionated, outspoken musician deserves to find happiness and peace. To expect decades of violent aggression is unfair and unrealistic. Besides, Sinead has always been honest and in her search for spirituality and hope she’s been kind enough to bring anyone along who was willing to listen. She still believes in everything that came before, only now she also believes in hope more clearly than before. Had I realized how good, brilliant, the night was going to be I would have approached it with more anticipation. Not that I was expecting anything substandard, but to even hope for what might prove the best show of the year hadn’t occurred to me. Yet there I was watching a performance that offers only one disappointment: it doesn’t last forever.