If a music artist or band plays a gig, I find that the first time I see them perform has a tendency to be the most enjoyable. The most obvious example is Madonna – although in her case my perception might be skewed by the fact that a gaggle of gays from Amsterdam and Dublin, convened in London to her see her perform her Reinvention Tour – which was essentially a greatest hits tour to re-engage her fanbase after a flop album; and before she descended into a parody of her former self becoming the oldest swinger in town, who’s down with the kids.
It was an outstandingly joyous event. My father had only died a short time before. Another fatherless Canadian gay friend and I, teamed up with a random fatherless lesbian and unmelodiously shrieked along to ‘Like a prayer’ like it was our anthem,.
Later tours exposed her musical mediocrity – her obsession with being regarded as some avant-garde, alternative genius, exposing how ropy and uninteresting her newer music had become. Play the hits woman – you’re charging over a hundred quid a ticket, nobody wants to hear you rap.
There are artists who are consistently fantastic live – Sinead O’Connor being the most obvious. In her case it’s down to her sublime voice – there’s little in the way of effects. She just stands there and sings. As she is an artist who never does more than a couple of takes when recording music, she sounds similar to how she does on record, with a clear, haunting, beautiful voice. There are some whose consistency is somewhat surprising. Kylie Minogue – or ‘The singing budgie’ as some wags in the 1980s called her. Her voice may not be technically very good, but she knows her audience; and knows how to deliver what they want to see while the joy she exudes when performing is infectious.
Then there was last night’s gig – The Cranberries from my hometown of Limerick. This is a group that have seen perform many times. However if you exclude the pre-fame gigs in the University of Limerick or in the music venues and bars of Limerick in the early 1990s, then this would be only my third proper, grown-up Cranberries gig.
I kind of grew up with the Cranberries. I mean that in a literal sense in that I was in a metalwork class, taught by Mr. Sheehan, with guitarist Mike Hogan in St. Nessan’s Community College until he left to join the band. They were a presence in my late teen years.
During the summer of 1993 I was working on a campsite in France. It was the summer that Ireland decriminalised homosexuality, and also the summer that the three day old Irish Times newspapers (it took three days to get the news in these pre-internet days) told tales of a band from Limerick achieving fame and fortune in the US. Those were heady days. Imagine – people from Limerick who I went to school with, becoming international rock stars. Computer said no. But the charts – they said yes.
The years that followed were their commercial peak before they disbanded in 2003.
I’ve always been fond of their music – as they are clearly talented musicians and singers – with Dolores a very charismatic front-woman. This is independent of the fact that they are from Limerick. Being from Limerick is the cherry on the cake though. It makes me feel personally invested in their music. In a ridiculous way it was as if they are doing the soundtrack to my much more mundane existence.
The first time I saw them live as a taxpaying, grown up was in Amsterdam in the Heineken Music Hall. It was magical. I can’t remember the exact year or circumstance – whether it was pre or post breakup but I’d been in Amsterdam for several years at this point and it felt like a sort of personal homecoming to see them play in my new home town.
My next encounter with them was definitely after they had reformed. They toured their comeback album ‘Roses’ in 2010 (I think). I was still in Amsterdam – my brain was just slightly more befuddled than the previous gig. They played the same venue. Dolores wore a platinum blonde pixie haircut and sequinned, glittery trainers, and she owned that stage. I adored it. Clearly they were not a band who were one hit wonders when it came to delivering the goods on stage.
Last night’s show – at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre – was their first Dublin show in twelve years, my first time seeing them on a grand scale in Ireland, and their first Irish tour since the tabloid kerfuffle a few years ago. Expectations were high.
They are touring to support their newest album ‘Something else’ which is a new venture for them – a combination of their best known tracks and new material, done acoustically with the accompaniment of a string quartet.
They didn’t disappoint. It’s easy to forget just how big they actually were. They banged them out – hit after hit after hit. Linger, Zombie, Dreams, Salvation, Be With You, Analyse, Free to Decide, Ridiculous Thoughts, Ode to My Family etc etc. Along with some new tracks, which sounded very impressive. I’ll just need to listen a few more times. While I can respect their new work I suspect it won’t induce the sense of yearning their earlier work inspires. Being the soundtrack to my early adulthood and all that nonsense. It’s almost impossible to replicate the joy and pain, your earlier, more innocent musical tastes instilled in you.
It was a quieter gig than what I’d been expecting – perhaps as it was acoustic. The boys were giving it welly. And Dolores was in good voice – although she seemed a little subdued. Maybe it was to make sure we heard the violins.
All told though – a very enjoyable concert. I can only imagine what a Limerick gig would be like. I suspect it would be like a Saint Nessan’s class reunion.