I've Been Saved by Jesus, So Fuck You!

Review of the Reykjavik Grapevine Airwaves concert by Kári Tulinius

No matter how often I see videos of Sinéad O’Connor in recent years the first image that comes to mind when I think of her is when she faced down a stadium full of people booing her at a Bob Dylan tribute concert. This was after she had ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II in protest against child abuse aided and abetted by the Catholic Church. She came onstage to sing Dylan’s I Believe in You, but told the musicians to stop when it was clear that the booing was not stopping. So she shouted Bob Marley’s War. I was 11 years old when I watched it on television. I did not know much about Sinéad O’Connor, let alone how child abuse had been covered up by the Catholic Church. All I knew was that a young woman had faced down a host of jeering fools and come out on top. She embodied the exemplary artist, facing the idiocy of society and shouting the truth into the din of nonsense. It needs to be said, Sinéad O’Connor was right, and all the idiots who tried to shout her down were wrong. In fact, when I came home from the show to write my review, I checked a news-site and the top story was about a Catholic bishop in the US who had been indicted on charges of covering up child abuse.

Tonight’s show is in Fríkirkjan, “The Free Church,” an independent freethinking congregation. O’Connor opened her show by kidding around about the trouble she would get up to at the altar. Throughout the show she cracked the audience up with funny stories and anecdotes about her children and being a working musician. My favorite story was about how she had been watching a reality TV show called Cheaters, where people confront their unfaithful spouses. One of them shouted: “I’ve been saved by Jesus, so fuck you!” Which, as O’Connor pointed out, would make for a great album title, though she was sure she would not get away with it, but perhaps Bob Dylan could. Another standout anecdote was how her father used to say that she could always be brought to the same place again, the second time to apologize for the first. She thought it would make for an appropriate epitaph for her.

The music was pretty great too. She played for nearly two hours. Particular standouts were Red Football, Whomsoever Dwells, Never Get Old and a couple of new songs off her forthcoming album whose titles I did not catch. Not that there were any bad moments, she barely put a foot wrong. O’Connor is a stellar performer. Do not forget that her rise to global fame was based on bettering Prince’s version of his song Nothing Compares 2 U. Outshining Prince is not something many people can do. Incidentally, she did perform that song. After running through fairly straight, she finished by veering off into singing about bananas: “Nothing compares to you, except the banana, peeled or unpeeled, I don’t care, though when they’re unpeeled they can get awful messy.” You see, she got into some trouble when she joked on her blog about using bananas for personal gratification. The next song, which closed her regular set, Thank You for Hearing Me, was largely rewritten with extra “banana verses,” e.g. “thank you for staying with me, because bananas are boring, you see, when you’re over forty-three.”

She got a standing ovation, people stomping their feet on the church floor. She came back and did an encore, The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, The Glory of Jah and 33. The last was particularly powerful, and drew another standing ovation. Then the show was over. Though it was mostly a great show, I do have one complaint. Fríkirkjan is not a perfect venue for a packed show like this. It is lovely, but it is hard to see what is going on because there is no raised stage. Secondly, the lights were barely dimmed. It is harder to concentrate on a performance when you can see the rest of the audience.

Other than that, it was a wonderful show by a great performer, ably aided by her fellow musicians Kieran Kiely and Bill Shanley. It was noticeable how few Icelanders and Anglophones were at the show. It was largely full of people from Scandinavia and mainland Europe. Draw whatever conclusions you will from that spurious anecdote. Sinéad O’Connor is not the sort of artist that usually attracts hype at Airwaves, but she brought the goods. I also want to commend her for having been politically outspoken during her show. Performing in a church gave her plenty of opportunity to skewer the Catholic hierarchy, which she did with wit and directness, at one point mock-apologizing to the picture of Jesus on the altarpiece after one barbed comment. She did not limit her self to ecclesiastical matters. For instance, she sang This Is a Rebel Song, which is an answer to U2′s Sunday Bloody Sunday. This Airwaves has been depressingly lacking in political statements, so it is good to see an artist who has never shied away from speaking out.

I wish more were like her.

(c) 2011 Reykjavik Grapevine Airwaves