POP Sinead O'Connor Olympia Theatre, Dublin
There is a ripple of muted applause. Several minutes' ovatory bliss from the full-house audience of her first Irish show in two and a half years have brought Sinead O'Connor back to the stage where she has just played the show of her life. And she has, perhaps inevitably, said something controversial. "This," she says, with awareness and confidence, "is for anyone wishing to, or trying to, give up drug-taking." The ghost of Britpop wheezes in the excesses of Columbia, raises two fingers to the world for old times' sake, and disappears up its own backside.

A truly wonderful evening draws to a close with the cathartic but hymnally gracious "I Am Not Enough" from the recent Gospel Oak EP, sliding into Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and disappearing into the Celtic mist with "(S)he Moved Through the Fair". The song is a vaguely mystical, over-familiar old warhorse, long grazing on the verges of parody but still fundamentally good - embracing angst and a generosity of spirit in equal measure. It's built to last. There is an obvious parallel, in all of this, to O'Connor herself. For the girl who used to bring her dirty linen to the laundry of the world's media has finally sorted herself out. Motherhood and love, as the content of both Gospel Oak and the Universal Mother album suggest, have a lot to do with it, but no more so than simply growing up. We should forgive her the public nature of that process, for was there ever great art without pain? And at the heart of it all, as tonight proved, Sinead O'Connor is a singer, songwriter, artist and entertainer of world-class stature.

Using a six-piece band, in which pastoral cello and thick, sinewy dub- style bass loomed largest, O'Connor said little but smiled lots and exuded a mixture of relief and exhilaration at the overwhelming warmth of her reception. She reciprocated with a taut, finely-honed set that, almost without exception, filtered her best material from recent years. Why do people feel the need to prat about with giant lemons and postmodern vacuity when there is still life in the old dog of passion, pure and simple? O'Connor has struck a balance between baring her soul and doing so in the context of pop music. Towering monoliths of dance / rock like "The Thief of Your Heart" and "Fire on Babylon" contrasted delicate, simple songs like "John I Love You". If the four new songs of Gospel Oak are perhaps a touch too fey in this way, the new song not included on it - "not for practical reasons, I just hadn't finished it" - promises much. "My Hard Englishman" is, in fact, a beautiful, understated treatment of Ireland's centuries- old grievances with England. Lyrically, it is a mark of her increasing maturity both as a writer and as a celebrity with a platform to voice her views. Throughout the set, she featured the four girls from her support band the Screaming Orphans on harmony vocals. It was a generous and inspired pairing with a group whose own songs and performance displayed all the facets of a real musical find waiting to happen.

Colin Harper