Sinead O’Connor plays both sorts of music: Old and New Testament. Her recent album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, her first collection of original material in many years, is for the most part loving rather than vengeful, but she is never far from a sense of righteous dread.
Her appearance at St Luke’s was a stripped-down affair, with accompaniment from Graham Henderson on keyboards and Robbie McIntosh on guitar. She started with a run of songs from the new album. John Grant’s “Queen Of Denmark” she inhabited to the point of appropriation, the line about her “hairline . . . receding like my self-confidence” gaining extra resonance, and the mixture of profanity and religion dovetailing with her own preoccupations.
Frigid piano chords introduced “The Reason Why”, sung from the point of view of an addicted burglar. She switched to a bluesy skiffle for “4th and Vine”, a deceptively girlish wedding fantasy, with Henderson’s organ swirling like a Las Vegas chapel.
The centrepiece of the album, and of the concert, was “Take Off Your Shoes”, the Holy Ghost denouncing the Catholic Church. McIntosh’s opening guitar figure represented musical Shekinah; O’Connor held a hand high, as if testifying, or crouched low to keen “come closer to me”. As on record, it was riveting, matched only by the unaccompanied folk lament “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”.
But O’Connor’s playful side was on display as well. She bantered in song with McIntosh about tunings, about missed chords (hers, not his), about whose turn it was to start. She argued out loud with herself about whether to tell the dirty joke that had popped into her mind, though discretion won out. A fan shouted incoherent adulation. “You sound like the Artful Dodger,” said O’Connor, launching into an impromptu rendition of “Consider Yourself”.
The encores were steeped in mysticism: “Thank You For Healing Me”, saved from being an Evangelical hymn by the intense sincerity of her delivery, and then three Old Testament passages set to strummed reggae. “Whomsoever” was taken from Psalm 91, mostly in the ringing cadences of the King James Bible, though Archbishop Bancroft might not have approved of the denunciation of “Babylon crap”. On “Jeremiah”, to tiny pipe organ trills, she sang of how “they dress the wounds of my poor people/as though they’re nothing”.
She was alone with her guitar for “Psalm 33”, commanding the faithful to “Sing to Jah with your guitar/Turn up yer bass amp/Whack it up all the way to ‘save him’”, honouring the spirit of the original rather than the strict letter. She finished with an unaccompanied monastic evening prayer, waved, and was gone.