“I always wanted do a costume change,” says Sinead O’Connor, stripping to her bra and hauling a T-shirt emblazoned with the word GAZA, thrown onstage by a fan, over her head. “I thought it would be sequins and shit…”
No sequins, no s*** for Sinead. As her infamous open letter to Miley Cyrus last year reminded the internet, she’s not one for skirting issues or fretting over semantics or sensitivities.
She dedicates tonight’s whole set, and two songs in particular, to Robin Williams. The first is an a capella version of ‘I Am Stretched Upon Your Grave’ that stills the room with its luminous force. The second is ‘8 Eight Good Reasons’, from new album, ‘I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss’, released the day before,which recounts O’Connor’s own suicidal urges: “I had a dream last night/About a bullet and a red light… you know it felt alright/It actually felt quite nice”.
“It’s a very bad idea, the choice that Robin made,” she says gently, “and I want to dedicate this song to anyone today who may be contemplating that choice and ask anyone not to.” She finds the title’s reasons to stay in her music, and in a life-grabbing chorus. There’s a strident strut to these new songs, the likes of the corrosive, roiling anger of ‘Harbour’ and the grinding, bluesy romp of ‘The Voice Of My Doctor’.
O’Connor’s never been coy about her own mental struggles (“you know I don’t much like life/I don’t mind admitting that I ain’t right”, she sings matter of factly on ‘8 Good Reasons’), and though on her opening cover of John Grant’s ‘Queen Of Denmark’ she sings “I hope I didn’t destroy your celebration”, you sense she enjoys the role of very-much-alive spectre at the feast, bearing a platter of raw uncomfortable truths. And her still-astounding voice, with its mixture of astringent yowls and honeyed melody, smooths the swallowing.
While on ‘I’m Not Bossy...’ it’s often a muted version of itself, hobbled by soft, shlocky production, in the wild it’s lost none of its raw, gut-tugging force, unleashed to its stripping, healing full here. ‘Healing’ became a naff sort of word after the new age 90s, but someone forgot to tell Sinead; the whole night has a cleansing, ritual sort of feel, from the 90s dubby dance groove of ‘Thank You For Hearing Me’, to the mass catharsis of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ , its line “I went to the doctor and guess what he told me… He said girl, you better try to have fun no matter what you do” particularly heartbreaking this evening.
O’Connor’s spoken recently about how she sees music as a priesthood, and her encore feels like a benediction, ending with the spare beauty of the love-renouncing ‘Streetcars’, followed by a solo rendition of song learned from Irish monks which ensures that even the most cynical head home feeling a little less downhearted: “Give us this night untroubled rest and build our strength anew.”