There was intrigue ahead of the Sinead O’Connor/John Grant double bill, as part of the Big Top series of gigs for Galway International Arts Festival.
O’Connor had taken to opening her gigs, including at Cork Opera House, in May, with the title track of Grant’s debut solo album, the majestic Queen of Denmark. It was an apt choice for O’Connor, with its refrain of “you really have no right to want anything from me”.
She also cropped up on more than a handful of songs on QoD’s follow-up album, the juxtaposed Pale Green Ghosts. So while other gigs at the Big Top were more obvious (Kodaline, the Coronas, Damien Rice), there was something tantalising about O’Connor and Grant onstage together.
Alas, a couple of days beforehand, it was announced that O’Connor had pulled the rest of her tour dates, citing exhaustion.
But Grant is a big guy, 6” 3, and capable of filling a vacated space on stage. Clad in denim jacket, he was as disappointed as us that O’Connor was not present, but honoured that so many people came out to see him.
There was a glorious warmth between crowd and performer, wide grins exchanged throughout the 80-minute show. His cries of “baby”, during the oxymoronic beauty of ‘Where the Dreams go to Die’, could have pierced the most indifferent of onlookers, while ‘Sigourney Weaver’ (sample lyric: “I feel like Winona Ryder in that movie about vampires, and she couldn’t get that accent right”) had us in tears of laughter.
He united his crowd. For ‘Greatest Motherfucker’, dedicated to O’Connor, the elderly man on my left did terrible air guitar, while the young couple on my right made out. It all just felt right.
There wasn’t much to the performance — there didn’t need to be — just an utterly beguiling voice and some stomping and skulking around. It was pity, though, that the show petered out, Grant’s band having disappeared for the final couple of tracks, without anyone noticing.
‘Caramel’ displayed his vocal chops, but it was not a rousing festival climax. There’s a new album, Grey Tickles, Black Matter, on the way in October, but no new songs made it to the setlist — you’ll have to wait till Vicar Street in November.