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O'Riordan still has some zest

Dolores O'Riordan, shown in Albania last month, is the former lead singer for the Cranberries. Dolores O'Riordan, shown in Albania last month, is the former lead singer for the Cranberries. (arben celi/reuters/file)

As the familiar grinding chords of "Zombie" filled the air before Dolores O'Riordan even set foot on the Avalon stage Monday night to join her band, it was as though the Cranberries frontwoman wanted to waste no time reminding the audience who she was.

Yes, there was a new album, her solo debut, "Are You Listening?," to promote. But stepping out on her own for the first time without the safety net of one of the most popular groups of the '90s behind her, O'Riordan hedged her bets by giving the audience what it wanted right from the start.

The move turned out to be largely unnecessary. The crowd saved its greatest enthusiasm for the Cranberries songs that made up half of the set, but there was plenty left for the new material. "Apple of My Eye" managed to be gentle and pounding simultaneously, while the ominous guitar arpeggio and keyboard drone that opened "Stay With Me" eventually gave way to booming, heavy stop-start chords in the chorus as O'Riordan let loose with a throaty wail.

The next song, "Black Widow," tried the same formula and fell short, revealing some of the weaknesses in her material in the process. A few others, like "Ordinary Day" and "Pretty," seemed to go nowhere. Worse, O'Riordan's voice seemed to be hit-or-miss ("Linger" was particularly disappointing), not to mention too idiosyncratic for the sound system to keep up. The shift from the whispering verse to the belting chorus of "Angel Fire" was abrupt and extreme, and feedback plagued most of the songs toward the end.

But if those problems frustrated O'Riordan, she pressed on without complaint while Graham Hopkins's drumming anchored a sharp and muscular band, making "I Can't Be With You" pulse with energy and propelling the strummy, thumping closer "Dreams."

By then, O'Riordan had spent an hour and a half displaying a comfort and ease onstage that even a five-year hiatus couldn't erase.

With a folk-group lineup of acoustic guitar and electric bass behind her, opener Jessie Baylin sang an engaging set in a voice reminiscent of a drama-free Amy Winehouse hooked on roots-pop instead of jazz and the girl-group era.


Dolores O'Riordan

With Jessie Baylin

At: Avalon, Monday night