Sarah McLachlan's Music Hath Charms To Soothe The Savage Hobby Center

"How much more black could this be? The answer is none: none more black."
"How much more black could this be? The answer is none: none more black." Photo by Jack Gorman
Sarah McLachlan
The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
February 6, 2020

It's been five years since Sarah McLachlan made a tour stop in Houston. And if she hasn't given us much in the way of new material (aside from a Christmas album, 2016's Wonderland), she's at least been keeping busy hosting the Juno Awards, opening a second music school (in Edmonton), and traumatizing everyone with ASPCA commercials (which, to be fair, have raised $30 million).

She also apparently went through a crushing breakup. Typical of McLachlan, she emerged from the experience as upbeat and optimistic as ever.

Which is one reason her audience is as enthusiastic as it is. It's easy, especially these days, to be cynical and/or chuckle derisively to yourself when McLachlan introduces "World on Fire" by telling us "we're all in this together," or reminds us how great love is before "The Sound That Love Makes." But this is what draws people to her, causing them to repeatedly scream their affections. It's how I imagine cult leaders must feel.

[In which case, I wish she would've Thulsa Doomed that guy who kept bellowing from the mezzanine.]

Last night's show was quite spartan compared to the Better Home and Gardens setup of her 2015 gig. Just a black backdrop and black piano. In her similarly-hued outfit, McLachlan was occasionally all that was discernible on the stage.

click to enlarge "This is going to be a long tour if you keep making that 12-inch pianist joke." - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
"This is going to be a long tour if you keep making that 12-inch pianist joke."
Photo by Jack Gorman
That's when she wasn't joined by cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, who provided accompaniment to several cuts, including "Adia," "Building a Mystery," and "Good Enough." It was still an intimate affair, even with the two of them.

The impersonal decor stood in contrast to McLachlan herself, who punctuated the set with stories about her father (before "Song For My Father," natch), and her daughters (before "Beautiful Girl"), and the relentless positivity — in spite of her often dour music — that's become her trademark.

I have a theory that every concert audience is, at heart, just like Homer Simpson seeing Bachman-Turner Overdrive: they want the hits, and will eventually make their feelings known. McLachlan's audience started getting restless around the 80-minute mark, which was a bit depressing considering "Possession" and "Building a Mystery" had already come and gone.

She placated them (mostly) with reminiscences of her early Texas shows and a stirring cover of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street." Because at the end, a Sarah McLachlan concert is a warm and welcoming experience, especially when last night's version of "Angel" was just off-tempo enough to keep us from reliving ASPCA-related trauma.

Hey, sometimes we just want to watch our Frasier reruns in peace.

Personal Bias: I feel personally attacked by McLachlan's "we're all in this together" attitude.

The Crowd: You people are going to make "Ice Cream" the "Freebird" of 21st century folk rock shows.

Overheard In the Crowd: Nothing really, though I did snort laugh when the doofus in front of me took a picture without turning the flash off and the reflection off the railing lit him up like a pillar of fire.

Random Notebook Dump: "Triceps are still on point."

In Your Shoes
I Will Remember You
Good Enough
Building a Mystery
Song For My Father
Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel cover)
World on Fire
Beautiful Girl
Sweet Surrender
River of Love
Loving You Is Easy
Ice Cream

The Sound That Love Makes
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar