What a voice.
A review of Sinead O'Connor could begin and end with that simple observation: What a voice.
Forget her shaved head. Forget the ballerina outfit. Forget the swirling eddies of multicolored lights accenting her stunning performance.
What really counts - what, in the last analysis, makes O'Connor one of the most potent contenders in the pop music arena - is the range and breadth of her voice. It's so strong, so confident, so firmly under control that one could imagine her belting out operatic arias with the same ease and finesse that she howls through high-tech rockers like "Jerusalem" and "The Emperor's New Clothes."
After opening with a couple of up-tempo dance tunes, O'Connor cleared away her five male backup musicians while she stood alone, sometimes strumming gently on guitar on songs like "Black Boys on Mopeds," sometimes in the company of a huge reel-to-reel sound machine that blared the rhythmic percussion and fiddle on "I am Stretched On Your Grave."
But it may be that her best moments came when she shunned all musical accompaniment and crooned her way through unrecorded tunes, some of which sounded like they may be folk songs from her native Ireland. In one of the most unusual encores in memory, O'Connor returned to the stage and sang a cappella to a hushed, hypnotized audience that only moments earlier had thundered raucuss approval.
But pop stars do not live by talent alone. Showmanship is equally important, and O'Connor shows a shrewdness in the spare but effective stage show that features the use of stark, black and white photos, some of them of herself, along with greek statues and other images projected onto a 50-foot high screen at the rear of the stage.
The concert traded largely on the new material from her top-selling album "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," with less emphasis on her 1987 debut album "The Lion and the Cobra." And while the mood of the new album is more reflective, perhaps more somber, O'Connor seamlessly brought the diverse musical episodes together into a remarkable - albeit brief - show.
O'Connor's charm lies largely in her cultivated contradictions. Perhaps the most obvious is her vaguely threatening punkish hairdo and its stark contrast to the rich resonance of her voice and the seemingly sincere shyness she evinces when fans hooted their appreciation. Her onstage attire - a ballerina outfit, complete with tutu, and complemented by combat boots - is another example.
O'Connor is also a thoughtful, pensive songwriter whose lyrics move easily from God to love to damnation. Politics, too, are woven into her songs. In "Black Boys on Mopeds," she decries the hypocrisy she sees in Britain where leaders denounce the violence in other parts of the world but seem oblivious to problems in their own back yards.
England's not the mythical land of madame George and roses.
It's the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds.
And I love my boy
and that's why I'm leaving.
I don't what him to be aware
that there's any such thing as grieving.
She's assisted by able bunch musicians: Marco Pironi, lead guitar; Mark Taylor, keyboards; David Ruffy, drums; and Dean garcia, bass.