Louder is not better, but better isBy Fred Choi
May 3, 1999
Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe it’s just that the last two concerts I’ve been to were stadium concerts. Maybe I just had the misfortune to be the one person in the audience sitting at the precise focal point of the speakers’ constructive interference and thus was the only one unfortunate enough to get the overwhelmingly full blast of sound. Or maybe the concert was just really loud.
It’s a shame that loud is the first adjective that comes to mind to describe the Cranberries’ performance at the Orpheum on Monday, for many reasons. I was looking forward to the intimacy of a smaller theatre as opposed to a stadium, and instead was disappointed that the Cranberries felt they had to resort to the amateur and fairly ineffective tactic of “loud equals energized.” It was also sad to see so many of their songs, like the old favorite, “Ode to My Family,” lose all of their subtlety and impact to overamplification, reduced to gaudy, rowdy parodies of themselves in which the lyrics were unintelligible. In addition, the audience was an older, rather mellow crowd, and I felt like the whole crowd was expecting something a little more subdued. The volume wouldn’t have been such a problem were it reserved for songs that would actually benefit from the increase.
The main reason the volume was so disappointing was the concert was otherwise excellent. The Cranberries are on tour for the first time since 1996, and after touring for a little under a month in Europe they were in great shape for their third date in America. The group is recovered from the burnout that came from four years of constant touring and media attention without any real breaks, and the result of their rest is their new-but-familiar-but-still-worth-getting fourth release, -Bury the Hatchet-, and supporting tour. The concert conveyed the same return-to-music sense of joy as their album, and the audience appreciated their new sense of self and purpose.
The amusing thing about seeing rock groups who are so firmly ensconsced in the bosom of pop culture perform live is that it doesn’t take a winner of the MIT Mystery Hunt to predict what songs are going to be performed; all it takes is an hour or two of watching MTV and listening to WBCN. Still, it was nice to hear all of their radio hits, including such familiar songs as “Linger” and “Zombie.” The setlist was pretty evenly divided between their first two multi-platinum albums, Everyone Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? and -No Need to Argue-, and their latest release, while virtually ignoring their third and far less popular album, -To the Faithful Departed,- with the exception of the punk rock-esque “Salvation.”
The recently married lead singer, Dolores O’Riordan Burton, engaged the audience with her idiosyncratic voice and her whimsical personality. Her motion across the stage, limited only by her black leather skirt and platforms, her requests to the audience for help singing the chorus to “Linger” and “Dreams,” her comments between songs, and her change of clothes from a brown velvet cape for the first encore, to a flowered pink dress for the second encore allowing her more freedom to dance -- barefoot --and further roam the stage all added to her commanding stage presence. Although most songs were as subtle as a thunderstorm during an outdoor wedding, Dolores’s voice still managed to get into the lyrics. Besides Noel Hogan on guitar, Mike Hogan on bass guitar, and Fergal Lawler on drums, two more musicians, a drummer and a guitarist whose high tenor vocals complemented Dolores’ singing, filled out the Cranberries’ sound. One of the highlights of the concert was the song “Saving Grace,” which Dolores explained was written right before having her son. She sat on a stool and sang it with her eyes closed, in front of a backdrop of rather corny star lights.
The hour-and-a-half long, 22-song set was fun, although it took until about the fifth song for the group to really hit its stride and begin to really energize the crowd. The concert included excellent lighting, featuring a wide palette of colors, and the surprise song, “Daffodil Lament,” a ballad from their second album. The new songs were uncomplicated and easy to listen to for the first time, and several of them, such as “Animal Instinct,” “You and Me,” and “Promises,” their first new single, were as strongly memorable as their old songs. The concert demonstrated that the Cranberries, after a two year hiatus, are back to their old selves and better, if louder, than ever.