On the front cover of the Cranberries latest CD, Bury the Hatchet, there's a picture of a naked man cowering from a big eyeball in the sky. On the back of the CD is a picture of the same man now standing, defiantly challenging the eyeball. I think I'm finally beginning to understand the significance of these pictures after having seen the group perform last Tuesday at Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
The Cranberries' performance was a mixture of energetic vulnerability and elliptical emotional release. At the center stage was the group's slight singer/songwriter Dolores O'Riordan who is the type of performer that makes it difficult to take your eyes off of. Her beauty lies not only in her wonderfully expressive voice but also in the unique way she moves (though she takes a back seat to a certain theorist I know who has the most appealing saunter of anyone on this planet...) And move O'Riordan does, constantly pacing, marching back and forth. Her dancing is sort of a hunched up pelican/karate type thing.
Yes indeed I fell in love again Tuesday night but it will take an army of doctors to figure out with who. The show opened with the first three songs off Bury the Hatchet, and the dynamic vocals from O'Riordan were positively goose bump quality. With a burning version of "Animal Instinct" the strength of the group, their raw emotion was crystal clear. Their lyrics are seldom subtle and the ones that make poetic sense lack sophistication. But their songs prove music can be about the feelings the songs evoke in both the singer and the listener and not necessarily the words literal meaning. When they performed "Ode To My Family" with my own personal situation weighing heavy on my mind, the tears began to flow. "My mother, my mother/she held me/did she hold me/when I was out there." Through four CDs of highly uneven material yet always listenable music, it is clear that the Cranberries can, if nothing else, reaffirm that it is OK to be a deep feeler rather than a deep thinker.
The group has been around long enough now to be a truly taut, original, and cohesive unit. Noel Hogan's guitar work, Mike Hogan's bass playing and Fergal Lawler's steady drumming are almost always workmanlike and often times quite stunning. But it is O'Riordon's voice that gives the group its own voice, and her stage presence is what is uniquely charismatic. Watching her was remindful of the documentary, Slow No Chaser, about Thelonious Monk a few years back, a film that showed him mysteriously moving, constantly walking in small circles. With O'Riordan there were times you had to wonder if she even was aware of the crowd as she closed her eyes into her own little world. At the same time she played to her audience, the consummate pro, well aware it is her voice that has made the group as popular as it is. Given another forty years of whiskey drinking and hard living she may achieve a standing a tad below Mr. Sinatra for being our all time greatest crooner. Every sound emanating from her expresses either a deep pain or a cathartic joy. Ethereal and subterranean...
As the group poured through its now rather impressive catalog of material ("Free to Decide," "Zombie," "Just My Imagination," "Salvation," to name some highlights of the show), what became clear was just how much O'Riordan gives of herself in her music. It is understandable why the group's last tour was cut short- she doesn't hold back, doesn't leave anything behind. Every night, a different town, a different show, yet her heart surges out there for the all to see. Hopefully her constant movement makes her a little less vulnerable target. And she expresses more through nonsensical sounds than the greatest writers do using the most masterful word combinations.
The songs are deeply heartfelt, personal and autobiographical- the group so good at getting to the root of the emotions that was the inspiration in the first place. In each and every one O'Riordan lets all her defenses down, reliving all the feelings again. Her writing is painfully direct and her singing is an exorcism of inner demons. She figuratively stands naked in front of all those eyeballs and the only defense is to aggressively sing out to the sea of adoring faces. Do they truly get it? Do they understand and appreciate the courage being shown? Are they just uncomfortable? Why do it? Why put yourself through it over and over? Perhaps it has to do with the rare occasion when the most wonderful feeling (and one of the scariest and draining) is to share your heart with (an)others but it is an even more wonderful feeling when they show the capability to connect and feel the same.
The concert ended with a powerful performance of the group's biggest hit, "Dreams" which had the crowd bobbing and singing along in pure delight. I turned for a moment and observed the look on my seatmate's face and saw that her smile, was wider than even my own. Never have I been more glad to be in the company of her presence. The lyrics of the song, got through as never before. "I never felt this way before/But I'm feeling it even more/Because it came from you..." "I tell you openly/you have my heart so don't hurt me." The power of this dreamy moment- the voice, the movement, (a silent internal scream) blew me beautifully away.