MANSFIELD, MASS. — High up on a catwalk with two staircases linked to either side, Dolores O'Riordan begins to play the keyboard while she sings the mellow song, "Pretty." Wearing a white dress that flows with her every move and a lacy shawl to match, she proceeds to walk slowly down the stairs at the end of the song. The crowd responds with a roar.
For a band from Limerick, Ireland, whose members had no intentions of making a career out of their musical abilities, the Cranberries have risen to the top in short order. They have developed a massive following, as was evident at their recent performance in front of 20,000 fans at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts.
While O'Riordan's presence may make the concert sound like a one-person show, it wasn't. Three other band members added to the melodic harmonies - guitarist Noel Hogan, drummer Feargal Lawlor, and bassist Mike Hogan (brother of Noel). They provided the beat and the rhythms, but O'Riordan was the main attraction.
One could say that the Cranberries have been the surprise success story of the 1990s. The band's '93 debut album "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?" has sold 3.5 million copies to date. Last year, the band performed at Woodstock '94. And it released its second album "No Need to Argue," earlier this year, which has sold 5 million copies.
The slight yet strong singer - with hair dyed a cranberry red - delivered a show that was relaxing, upbeat, and entertaining. But at times, her voice was drowned out by too much bass and guitar. Her first words, spoken to Noel Hogan, were: "Can you say Mass-a-chu-setts? It's hard." But it was equally difficult to understand her Irish-accented words. But the crowd cheered no matter what she said.
One of her favorite phrases quickly became "Sing it!," yelled more than a dozen times throughout the night. The crowd happily obliged and began singing and swaying - especially during the band's more popular hits such as "Linger," the upbeat "Ridiculous Thoughts," and the ballad "Ode To My Family."
The lively O'Riordan has been compared to Sinead O'Connor and Natalie Merchant (formerly of 10,000 Maniacs) - a comparison that she loathes - but neither performer quite matches her melodic style, vocal range, or lyrics.
The Cranberries' songs go beyond laid-back melodies and beautiful harmonies. Most of them, if not all, convey a specific message about politics, relationships, and everyday happenings. This is because O'Riordan (who writes most of the band's lyrics) draws from what she reads about in the newspaper.
The single "Zombie" from the "No Need To Argue" album is a harsh, guitar-driven song about political terrorism in Northern Ireland ("With their tanks and their guns and their guns and their bombs...."). During this song, peace signs rolled around, projected onto three panels behind the drummer and high above O'Riordan. The new song "Warchild" follows along that same theme. It examines political unrest in Ireland and the hopelessness of war.
On the other end of the spectrum, the group's first hit single, "Linger" (from the first album), is about a woman trying to cope after a broken relationship. ("You've got me wrapped around your finger/ Do you have to/ Do you have to/ Do you have to let it linger?"). During this song, O'Riordan hummed the synthesizer part, adding to the song's already beautiful melody.
O'Riordan changed clothes for the second half of the show. Dressed in tight silver pants and a jacket to match, she looked like something that had just landed from outer space - but the outfit was sharp nonetheless. The singer shimmered, yet her moves were almost mechanical and amusing to watch at times. She marched, ran, and skipped across the stage to the beat, providing the most entertaining part of the show.
The Irish band also debuted several new songs, but these were not the evening's strongest numbers. They included "I Just Shot John Lennon" and "Joe," a tribute to O'Riordan's grandfather. The new songs came across as bland.
But O'Riordan proved that she is a multitalented performer on stage. With her magnetic singing and running up the stairs to play the keyboards and then down again to play the guitar, one has to wonder, is there anything she can't do? How about an Irish jig?
Well, she did that too.
*The Cranberries just started a US tour. Stops include: Garden State Art Center in Holmdel, N.J. (tonight); Jones Beach in Wantagh, N.Y. (Aug. 12); Blossom Music Center near Cleveland (Aug. 14); and Pine Knob Music Theatre in Detroit (Aug. 16).