Universal Mother

"I don't do songs like 'Troy' because I'm not that miserable anymore. And it took a long time to get that way," Sinead O'Connor said, spurning one listener's request Sunday night at Champoeg State Park. The comment came late in the show, but you would have had to be deaf to have failed to get the message. This was the new Sinead.The other Sinead, the Sinead who tore up a picture of the pope on national TV, who scrawled "Purge A-Z" on the back of her fist, who wrote "Troy" and the other passionate songs on her 1987 debut, The Lion and the Cobra, is no more. In her place we have a relaxed young woman, who, except for the above comment, barely uttered more all night than a meek "thank you" in the two-tone melody of an embarrassed schoolgirl.Therein lies the challenge for both the artist and her audience: Though we must be pleased that the once-tortured young woman is now a content mother of two, it can't be denied that something has been lost in the bargain. The same intensity that made a mess of her personal life also fueled her music. Now that O'Connor has reconciled so many of her personal issues, the music has lost some of its bite, and that's a mixed blessing.Launching herself into worldwide fame with a heartbreakingly vulnerable rendition of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" off her second album, 1990's I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got, O'Connor has done nothing since, commercially speaking. She is for many a one-hit wonder, a candidate for a "where are they now?" story. The public probably remembers her more for her shorn head, her infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live and subsequent mistreatement by the crowd at a Bob Dylan tribute concert or the fuss she raised over the playing of the national anthem before an appearance in New Jersey than for her inspired and inspiring music.Can't blame them, really. That's what happens when you react to multiple platinum sales by recording an album of soppy showtunes-"Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and others-with a 47-piece orchestra. That's what you can expect when you throw temper tantrums in foreign countries where the populace is basking in a political climate of hear-no-evil/see-no-evil conservatism. Still, I'd have liked to have seen Frank Sinatra just try and kick her butt.O'Connor admits now that Am I Not Your Girl was a calculated attempt to dislodge herself from the public eye-and, boy, did it work. But, as was evident Sunday night, she still means much to a modest contingent of diehards, who are delighted with the happier, hitless Sinead.From the opening number, "The Emperor's New Clothes," O'Connor seemed more approachable than she had two summers back at Lollapalooza. Swaying gently from side to side in sneakers, brown military pants and a purple halter (navel aficionados noted she has an "outie"), the singer applied emotion gingerly. A slow start is fine, but having worked through "The Thief of Your Heart," "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" and the encouragingly titled "This Is a Rebel Song," the singer had failed to light much of a fire under herself, and it became clear that audience expectations would need to be modified.Even with 10 pieces onstage-including cello and four back-up singers-the sound was slight and lyric, though a different sort of magic began working halfway through. The child's song "Petit Poulet," fey on O'Connor's latest record, the EP Gospel Oak, was exceedingly soulful. An a cappella version of "Thank You for Hearing Me" had the effect of a trance-inducing mantra. With "Fire on Babylon" and "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," things heated up considerably, approaching the temperature of passion and then-what's this?-O'Connor left the stage, band in tow.She conceded to a brief encore of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and the incandescent incantation of "He Moved Through the Fair," then with a matter-of-fact wave of her hand and a short "That's it," she was gone. She may not have been either a lion or a cobra, but she was a Sinead who's right with herself, and to begrudge her that would only be selfish.

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