With apologies to Frank Sinatra — who wasn’t shy about voicing his disdain for her — Sinead O’Connor has been a poet, a priest and a pariah, always, unquestionably, doing it her way. Thus, it’s not that much of a stretch to see her as a reggae song stylist, the role she took on for her recently released “Throw Down Your Arms” album and furthered at this soldout Gotham show.
While forming a band around the rhythm section of Sly & Robbie — arguably the most important sonic architects in reggae history — could conceivably lend Michael Bolton some island credibility, it seldom seemed O’Connor was being propped up by her colleagues. Yes, her voice was a bit ragged — which she attributed to a lingering throat infection that would prompt the cancellation of the next evening’s perf — but her agile phrasing and, more importantly, her comfort in the spirituality intrinsic to the lyrics of the songs she chose to cover, overcame it.
The latter aspect was underscored early on via a stripped-down rendition of Burning Spear’s “Jah Nuh Dead” — the outro of which was further buoyed by an appearance by Spear himself, who remained onstage for much of the set.
As the perf progressed, O’Connor’s energy levels seemed to surge, rather than ebb, a state of affairs that might have been due to her decision to backload the program with its angriest material, notably the anti-papist “Vampire” and her take on Peter Tosh’s “Downpressor Man.”
Those songs took on a near-apocalyptic tone, thanks to the booming, dub-oriented arrangements and O’Connor’s own heaving delivery, but there was room for calm after the storm. A version of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s “Curly Locks” was positively jaunty, its edges as pleasantly blurry as a seascape viewed through a ganja haze.
The warmth level was upped even more when one of O’Connor’s entourage strolled onto the stage holding the singer’s infant son Shane — the recipient of a sweet version of “None a Jah Jah Children (No Cry).”
The shift in sound might seem somewhat radical — O’Connor’s traditional Celtic folk roots didn’t poke through at all — but the raw energy and spirit was remarkably similar to that displayed on “The Lion and the Cobra” all those years ago, a full-circle turn that’s certainly welcome.
O’Connor plays the House of Blues in Los Angeles on Feb. 27.