Sinead O'Connor Kicks Off U.S. Tour

Impassioned L.A. set includes tribute to Whitney Houston

Sinead O'Connor performs at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.
Megan Mack
February 21, 2012 3:25 PM ET

Sinead O'Connor at her best is pure emotion and passion. Whatever your opinion – and everybody had one – of her famed Saturday Night Live incident, there was no denying her conviction. And that's what made her a great artist. Other singers might have been able to deliver a fine vocal performance on "Nothing Compares 2 U," but the list of vocalists who could make that heartbreak feel so tangible could probably be counted on one hand.

With a critically acclaimed new album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, out today, O'Connor kicked off a brief U.S. tour at L.A.'s El Rey Theater last night. Right from the outset there were plenty of glimpses of her fiery nature. Taking the stage at quarter after nine to a packed and adoring throng – she was given three bouquets of flowers before "The Emperor's New Clothes" – O'Connor and her band kicked off the show with the new album's "Take Off Your Shoes," a sparse, devastating number puncutated by O'Connor's pointed reminder, "You are on hallowed ground."

Vocally, O'Connor doesn't have the same range she once did, something she acknowledged during "Nothing Compares 2 U" when she failed to hit a note. But her delivery was occasionally enough to offset that, as was the case with an a capella version of "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" she dedicated to Whitney Houston.  She also dedicated "Petit Poulet" to Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina. And the closing "Last Day of Our Acquaintance" was epic, filled with just as much anger and sorrow as when it jumped off I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got 22 years ago.  The album that made her a superstar, I Do Not Want provided several songs on the night, including "Three Babies" and "The Emperor's New Clothes." O'Connor also dipped heavily into the new album for songs like "V.I.P." and "Queen of Denmark," both performed during the encore, and "I Had A Baby."

Musically, she mixed things up a bit, incorporating a cello into both "Nothing Compares 2 U" and a sublime "Jealous." O'Connor also acknowledged her Twitter breakdown of last year – not specifically, but by joking about keeping her stage banter to a minimum for fear of saying something inappropriate. That became a running gag. Though she admitted she was nervous, in part because of the new album, her first in five years, she was often joyous, dancing about the stage and wearing a huge smile. She was perhaps comforted by her fans, who repeatedly yelled out their love for her. And that adoration is understandable. It's hard not to root for an artist who puts so much of herself out there. It's the only way Sinead O'Connor seemingly knows how to make music.

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