Inside Christeene's Subversive Sinead O’Connor Reboot

Inside Christeene's Subversive Sinead O’Connor Reboot

In typical debauched fashion, the Rick Owens fave resurrected O'Connor's deceptively radical early work.

In typical debauched fashion, the Rick Owens fave resurrected O'Connor's deceptively radical early work.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

This ain't no cover-band-tribute-shit kind of night; this is an experience,” says the Texas-based shockteuse Christeene, who last night took her horror-drag act where it’s never gone before: a major museum. “When you're used to seeing me in a basement the size of the shoe box, [the change in venue] alone is stunning enough.”   

In speaking with Christeene prior to the event—a one-night cabaret at London’s Barbican Centre also featuring Peaches and face masks from Rick Owens—there was no question that it would be subversive. But the live-cover-album-style show, entitled “The Lion, the Witch and The Cobra,” was scriptural in its song-list, taken entirely from Sinead O’Connor’s debut, relatively lesser-known LP The Lion and the Cobra. (O’Connor’s cover, “Nothing Compares 2U,” didn’t come till her second album). 

That tracklist was of a piece with Christeene’s ostensible mission last night—to re-position O’Connor as an unfairly rebuked whistleblower by revisiting the substance of her early work. It includes “Drink Before the War,” described by Christeene as being “all about the fucking patriarchal sons-of-bitches who are still blowing our fucking world up and destroying our way of life,” and the mystical rallying cry “Jerusalem.” With its poetic, deceptively radical lyrics, invoking profound, still-relevant issues, the album has a portentous quality today. But ever since O’Connor’s career-defining political statement in 1992—tearing up a picture of the Pope on live TV—the Irish firebrand’s politics have been largely dismissed as unhinged and bombastic. There are so many songs that address our current state of affairs,” says Christeene of The Lion and the Cobra, released in 1987. “I find it to be extremely inspiring, extremely powerful and relevant."  

Just as it casts O’Connor in a new light, the show’s redemptive mission also seems uncharacteristic of Christeene, who presents herself as a greased-up manifestation of id-like tendencies, an unapologetically bottom-feeding cartoon. But as the titular “witch” in “The Lion, the Witch and The Cobra,” the insight of Christeene’s shock tactics shine through. “There's a driving force [behind] this woman that inspires me,” she says of O’Connor—one of two musicians (the other Patti Smith) that Christeene, who typically writes and performs her own music, has covered in the past. “I think that she is someone who allowed [herself] to be absolutely, 100 percent vulnerable in this mad world we live in,” she adds. “But because, yes, she's a woman, and she shaved her head; because she tore up a picture of a pope; because she changed her religion three or four times… She's done all of these things because she's human, and she's searching for something; she's curious. But [that] made her a fucking target.” 

As often seems the case in Christeene’s work, the inner struggle between progressive and base, civilized and feral also persisted in her O’Connor tribute… Something to do with a prophetic bird living in her throat? “The bird is, you know, the thing that talks to me at night and tells me what to sing and my thoughts,” Christeene says. “But now I’m singing someone else’s songs and the bird is like, 'What the fuck is going on?'” 

See inside the show at Barbican Centre below.

CHRISTEENE performs THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE COBRA, with special guests Peaches and John Grant, with dancers T Gravel and Dawg Elf, performed at The Barbican on Sunday 22nd September 2019. Photo by Tom Howard

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