Ireland and Jamaica are separated by 4,000 miles and a world of cultural
differences. But both are island nations that responded to centuries of
cultural oppression with incredibly soulful music.
The ever-evolving singer Sinead O'Connor found that common ground on
Tuesday during a performance at the Vic Theatre that drew exclusively on
covers of reggae classics, including many from her recent album "Throw Down
The often-troubled O'Connor took the stage wearing a blue work shirt and
jeans, with a do-rag covering her shaven head. The petite 38-year-old Irish
woman provided a stark visual contrast to her band of eight Jamaican
musicians, centered on drummer Lowell "Sly" Dunbar and bassist Robbie
Shakespeare, the legendary Rasta rhythm section whose credits include work
with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru.
But as O'Connor applied her always amazing voice and the full strength of
her passionate if sometimes confused spirituality into songs such as Winston
Rodney's "Jah Nuh Dead" and "Marcus Garvey," Lee "Scratch" Perry's "Vampire"
and Tosh's "Oppressor Man," the mix of her soaring, bell-clear soprano and
the deep-bottomed but agile reggae grooves was a musical match made in
heaven -- or Zion, as the case may be.
To be sure, there were problems with the nearly two-hour performance.
Despite O'Connor's insistence that promoters advertise that she wouldn't be
playing her '80s and '90s hits -- a stance that slowed ticket sales and
caused Jam Productions to move the show from the 2,500-seat Riviera Theatre
to the 1,500-capacity Vic -- there were doubtlessly a few concertgoers who
were still hoping for "Nothing Compares 2 U."
While O'Connor deserves the right to experiment, it's hard to blame these
fans, who responded enthusiastically throughout the show. It would, in fact,
have been rewarding to hear the star revisit some of her older material in
her current musical guise.
More troubling was the singer's near-worshipful deference to Sly and
Robbie. The riddim twins already had been given a generous turn in the
spotlight when they led the band through a 40-minute opening set before
O'Connor joined them. But her portion of the show bogged down several times
while she left the stage and gave the drummer and bassist additional solo
Even in the hands of such masters, drums and bass just aren't solo
instruments. They certainly aren't on the level of O'Connor's one-of-a-kind
voice, and these indulgent jams derailed the show's momentum.
On the plus side, O'Connor rarely has been more powerful or convincing
then when she threw herself into "Rivers of Babylon," a tune by the
Melodians that ranks as one of the most well-known reggae songs ever because
of its place on the soundtrack of the classic film "The Harder They Come."
O'Connor has said her detour into reggae is a one-time homage; she
already is working on a new and stylistically divergent album called
"Theology." But the synergy of this unexpected genre experiment made perfect
sense as the band charted a groove midway between a Roman Catholic hymn and
a Rastafarian song of protest.
"Oh, the wicked carried us away in captivity/And required from us a
song," O'Connor sang before proceeding to deliver that tune in the form
of a hypnotic, one-word chant of "Jah" that spanned several octaves,
cultures and centuries, creating one of the most memorable moments of her