The Cranberries return

NY concert review

After a seven-year layoff from performing, The Cranberries, originally of Limerick, rolled into New York last night and showed again how their strange, volatile brew of talent and influences sets them apart from anyone else in rock, past or present.

The Cranberries long ago mastered the art of tightrope walking on many edges at once. Their music settles frequently into the jagged groove of 1970’s punk rock. But on that foundation, a lot of different stylistic rooms have been built. Their five-album repertoire takes hairpin turns from sweet romantic melodies to teeth-gnashing hard rock, with the cumulative effect somehow being more than the sum of the parts. Long used to playing big-venue shows, the band now offers plenty of typical audience sing-along’s and “helooo-fill in the name of the city we’re in tonight” yells. But as the concert progresses, a “ghost in the machine” quality of the songs unfolds. Embedded in the catchy melodies and hooks, there’s a flavor of personal pain that’s sharp and real. Thankfully, it all comes without a touch self-pity.

Riding the crest of all this is lead songwriter and singer Dolores O’Riordan, who hasn’t lost anything vocally during the hiatus. Belting away song after song without much harmony backup, she seemed to get stronger as the evening progressed. She remains a riveting front woman who can take the odd yelps and guttural cracks that trace back to Patti Smith and Yoko Ono and make them somehow palatable to a pop audience. Call me biased, but I can’t help but hear a subtle echo of Irish sean nos singing now and then as well.

She has no trouble qualifying as a Celtic rock star diva with a hot hairdo. But as always with the Cranberries, there’s another side to the coin. At age 38, after having three children, O’Riordan brings a frank sexuality to her performance that’s bracing. Alternately waving her arms and legs like Frankenstein conjuring the musical beast to life, stopping to shake her lovely ass and then telling a pithy story or two about her kids, she keeps her audience locked in but always a little off balance. You feel now and then like you’ve found your way into a loft in a bad part of town where some new band is trying out a lot of crazy ideas – an exhilarating sense that most bands have lost by the time they reach this level. You know they’re going to end with “Dreams,” but it just doesn’t feel predictable.

The band is flexible, trading easily from heavy, droning songs like “Zombie” to light acoustic tunes including “Linger.” Sprinkled in along the way were some new tunes, including a particularly good one about insomnia. The Cranberries will be touring in the U.S., Europe and South America well into next spring. Get tour information here