SINEAD O’CONNOR’s live return – Nothing compares

Two points of time.

In one of these moments in time, I am very young.

It’s Friday, April 8th, 1988.

The night before, a 20-year-old Sinéad O’Connor played her debut show in Toronto, at the Diamond Club, to adults. She wore a black leotard, and over it white “teddy” lingerie. She played songs from her astounding debut The Lion and the Cobra, a show described at the tim by the Toronto Star newspaper as “Celtic balladry” delivered with a “punk snarl.”

The second of her two performances would be an all-ages one. I went down to the Diamond at 4pm, and stood for 6 or 7 hours. I’m laser-focused. And ended up front-row centre, at her feet. When she comes on stage she’s in a kid-friendly Bauer jumpsuit that goes just below her knees, with thick black socks and high, black, steel-toe combat boots.

Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/

I’m in awe at the scary amazing bald lady. The Lion and the Cobra metaphorically picked me up and shook my ears with anotherness. But also: her band’s rhythm section is Mike and Andy from The Smiths. I vibrate.

She opened with “Jackie” a haunting tale that even today clunks around in my brain like a tin. “Mandinka”, “Never Get Old”, “Just like Said It Would Be” and “Jerusalem” follow. She does a cover of the Smiths’ “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.” Her encore is “Troy”, solo, with an acoustic guitar. She’s shy but fierce, and her smile makes the room swoon. Her voice is beyond. It’s all remarkable, and there was an honest-to-greatness feeling that I bore witness to something…special.

In the other point of time, I am older, and feel even older than that.

It’s February, 1st, 2020.

Over the past 32 years, Sinéad O’Connor has walked barefoot across the battlefields like bipolar disorder, the loss of custody of her child, a radical hysterectomy and suicidal ideation. She used her social media channels in her darkest times, and we all bit our nails as police carried out welfare checks. And she survived, oh thank gods, she survived.

Then in 2018, after a stint as an ordained Latin Tridentine minister, she found new faith and converted to Islam and became a Muslim. Sinead O’Connor, formerly Magda Davitt, took on a new name, Shuhada’ Sadaqat.

Two years later, Shuhada’ Sadaqat is on a stage in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre. I’m front row again, this time taking photos, before heading back to my seat – a ticket that cost $50 more than it did when I first saw her.

She’s surrounded by love and beams a bright smile at the audience standing up to welcome her. The scary amazing bald lady is dressed in a black hijab with a silver pin, and is wearing a deep-green-and-black-print, long-sleeve dress. Her neck and hand tattoos peek out. Her fingers adorned with rings.

It’s the first night of the tour. She says she’s a bit “shy about it all” but thanks everyone graciously. We’re all just so happy she’s still with us on this earth. The anticipation is monumental.

And then she disarms us all with her cover of John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark”.

I wanted to change the world
But I could not even change my underwear
And when the shit got really really out of hand
I had it all the way up to my hairline
Which keeps receding like my self-confidence
As if I ever had any of that stuff anyway
I hope I didn’t destroy your celebration
Or your Bar Mitzvah, birthday party or your Christmas
You put me in this cage and threw away the key
It was this ‘us and them’ shit that did me in
You tell me that my life is based upon a lie
I casually mention that I pissed in your coffee
I hope you know that all I want from you is sex
To be with someone that looks smashing in athletic wear
And if your haircut isn’t right you’ll be dismissed
Get your walking papers and you can leave now

We all laugh. Exhale.

Her voice starts off a little reedy.  But nobody fucking cares, bcause it’s the first songs of the first show of the first tour in ages, and soon enough it comes, the anotherness of her voice. The sonorous power. The survivor. The warrior.

In “I am stretched on your grave” she is alone on stage, singing this poem a capella. I try to ignore the narcissists behind me who think it’s okay to ruin a hair-raising moment by singing loudly along. Who fucking does that?

We all lean in. “Black Boys on Mopeds” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”  are proper sing-alongs. “Thank You For Hearing Me.” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” are emotional.

And at the end of it all, Shuhada’ Sadaqat was smiling. She made it through this, she made it through it all, and we get to our feet again, and cheer. \m/

Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/
Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/
Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/
Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/
Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/
Sinead O'Connor, photo Mikala Folb/

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