Numerous bouquets of flowers made their way from audience to stage Thursday night in Baltimore as the Cranberries played their first U.S. concert in more than six years-accepted by beaming frontwoman Dolores O'Riordan, who sported the same boyishly cropped hair that fans remember from the band's mid-'90s peak, and the same spunk.
As she chased back and forth across the stage -- punting out joyful "woo"s, kicking off her boots and tossing them backstage, gushing about her children -- the feeling was of returning to a roomful of old friends; the sold-out hall, Rams Head Live, was filled with everyone from business-casual men to young hipsters, all responding with the same feverish excitement you might see at a U2 concert.
The reunited Irish band gave a 90-minute show spanning all of their hits, for better ("Zombie") and for worse ("Free To Decide"), with some interesting surprises in between.
A few of the latter included an O'Riordan solo number (the recent "Lunatic"), which couldn't quite hold the energy of the room; the marvelously oddball doo-wop "When You're Gone"; the simple lament "Can't Be With You," with its warbling vocal bridge; and "How," a dark, powerful, and unlikely set opener equal parts race and dirge.
And how about that straight-up shimmy O'Riordan did during "Animal Instinct?"
It's worth noting that the Cranberries didn't actually break up six and a half years ago, but rather went on hiatus. In the interim, O'Riordan explained: "Babies were born. We had fun in the bedroom." But, with no new songs, the show felt a bit more like a reunion jag than a continuation, a delayed victory lap. And, O'Riordan's voice isn't what it used to be -- not destroyed by any means, but straining with age.
That instrument was what put the Cranberries over the top, what buried "Zombie"'s whips of "and their guns/ and their bombs" deep inside listeners' brains, what turned string sections into meek backing pulp.
But Thursday night, much of the vocal theatrics from hits like "Zombie" and "Linger" were taken over by an omnipresent delay effect or passed off to the audience, which was eager to take over, and really didn't seem to mind that their heroine wasn't quite nailing it.
Indeed, looking around the room, nearly everyone in the audience had Cranberries lyrics singing off their lips. Even in her recording prime, it's a toss-up whether or not O'Riordan could have sung over the crowd anyhow. They were that loud.
But, as the encore progressed from the soft, airy "Lunatic" into another O'Riordan solo track, "The Journey," a mid-tempo rocker of a love song with a "na-na-na-na-na" refrain, and finally into the Cranberries classic "Dreams," she seemed to gain more footing. Her voice took off above the delay effect, and returned like another old friend, nailing the high, grand vocal showpiece on the bridge and chasing the Cranberries return high into the atmosphere.