Palacio Vistallegre, Madrid, March 15th, 2002
It's now been twelve years since the group formally known as the Cranberry Saw Us got together. The studio output has swayed from sublime to dire and the part in between which is the group's latest album, 'Wake Up And Smell the Coffee'. It's on a mission to sell this latest released that the Cranberry tour bus finds itself pulling up at Madrid's latest cool venue, el Palacio Vistallegre, an indoor bull-ring. Spanish telephone firm Movistar pick a band or two every year from the world's best and put them onstage with some local talent and lots of sponsorship. Tonight local indie outfit Dover open the show. Headliners will rarely be as tested as the Cranberries were by this English-singing powerhouse of post-grunge noise.
By the time Noel Hogan and bass brother Mike put down the first chords of Wake Up, the Spanish crowd is uber enthusiastic. Limerick, Ireland is alive and well when drummer Fergal Lawler beats his way into Zombie. When she sings Linger or Zombie, this group departs planet earth. That keening, powerful voice is the most distinctive element of the group's sound. The Limerick accent still doesn't manage to sound mildly sexy but when O'Riordan sings, the whole house is going to listen. Bumping and twisting about the stage like a pixie on speed, the costume changes and greedy command of the stage are almost Madonnaesque. Not so however is her fidgeting with her earplugs most of the way through the set. The fidgeting, gesturing and looks of annoyance from the central performer of the night really do jar after the first twenty minutes. I really wanted to crawl on that stage and fix it for her by the time Zombie had her grimacing and pawing her right ear at the same time.
Noel Hogan looks like a sick man. Shockingly pale and haggard, his guitar playing seems disinterested, or at least nonchalant. After much staring into space on Time Is Ticking Out, he seems to shift a pitch on Just My Way, the highpoint of the evening. The best guitar moments of the show were provided by the nameless session player who stood at the back of the stage and pushed out some very fine solos. One wonders why the nameless sessionist is needed and why he's not given a full time role. Overall, but almost incidentally, the show is a study in dissonance and melody. Surprisingly for a band with so many jagged little pills in the back catalogue, the set could be described in liquid terms, songs oozing into one another, simmering slowly and then bubbling to an angsty but predictable boil. Loud and Clear, the best thing from the Bury the Hatchet album, is the Cranberries at its most potent tonight, a stage shaking tour de force of a performance.
Although Linger wasn't played to its full potential as the godfather of Cranberries songs, it still serves as an indictment of this group's slide in terms of lyrical quality when put next to the mawkish and awkwardly crafted Time Is Ticking Out, from the latest album. These folks really need a spell in the Manic Street Preachers school of political songwriting.
The Cranberries were like a group who've been doing this thing for long enough not to be awed by the big occasion anymore. O'Riordan leads from the front while the rest of the band focus on getting through the show as safely as possible. At times compelling and confrontational, the Cranberries is no longer about tapping the unconventional but about managing to combine melody and malady more smoothly and effectively than ever before.