March 1, 2015
Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan is probably just as well-known these days for her animal-rights activism and the founding of Lilith Fair as she is for her music, which doesn't seem right, somehow. After all, her lush arrangements and marked contrast in her vocal registers helped distinguish her from many of her '90s contemporaries, while her deeply personal lyrics wouldn't have been out of place decades earlier. In an era of nu-metal and Pearl Jam clones, she definitely stood out on the radio.
Note to Millennials: a "radio" is that thing with the buttons in your car you never use.
McLachlan has just released Shine On, her first album in four years, and her fans are as devoted as they were in the pre-Y2K days. This devotion inspired a more intimate approach for this tour, with fans invited onstage, selected questions pulled from a hat, and everyone basking in the transitory illusion that each of us are loved and welcome.
While waiting for the show to start, I got to thinking that many of the quote-unquote empowered artists of the present day (Meghan Trainor, Pink) owe more of a debt than they realize to McLachlan. True, many of her songs are about personal relationships, but others — think "Possession" or "Building a Mystery" — focus on developing inner strength and dealing with personal crises.
The first song of the show was a prime example. "In Your Shoes" was introduced as "inspired by" Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for the "crime" of advocating for educating women in her homeland. My notes indicate it was surprisingly "rocking."
I suppose overexposure to McLachlan's softer side (you know what I'm talking about) caused me to mistakenly regard her as more soporific than she actually is, but "Sweet Surrender," the aforementioned "Possession," and "World on Fire" (from 2003's Afterglow) were all up-tempo, fairly aggro affairs.
That's thanks in part to some new personnel (with the exception of longtime drummer Curt Bisquera) joining McLachlan for this tour. Perhaps the best addition is bassist/vocalist Butterfly Boucher, who contributed backing vox to most tracks, standing out especially when harmonizing on "Possession" and "Angel."
In an earlier Rocks Off interview, McLachlan referred to bringing her living room on tour with her, and ... she sure did. Two couches and a chair were positioned stage right, and twice during the show fans selected from a social media campaign to explain how they "shine" were brought onstage to ask questions and hug/take selfies with the singer.
If that sounds insufferable, I suppose on one level it is. At least, to cynical jerks like me who can't roll our eyes fast or hard enough when people publicly get in touch with their feelings, man. However, for an artist like McLachlan who's certainly heard it from critics in the past about wearing her heart on her sleeve, it actually works.
The whole setup, with the band bathed in soft light (blue, gold, and lavender figuring most prominently) and McLachlan engaging the audience far beyond the usual stage banter, was geared to engender that kind of warmth. To a non-fan, I imagine it's disconcerting. To McLachlan's devotees, quite the opposite.
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The singer used this connection to hit her usual touchstones: love lost and found (she's dating someone new), the importance of family (several references to her two young daughters), and encouragement to enact positive social change in an increasingly frightening world (this before "World on Fire"). "Positive social change." How Canadian.
She seemed almost apologetic about her new material, which was unnecessary. Of the eight new tracks, only one ("Loves Beside Me," I think) failed to connect. Of course, the older stuff generated the most enthusiasm, with "Building a Mystery" and "Possession" standing out in particular. To her credit, McLachlan brought just as much energy to the 20-year old tunes as the recent stuff.
I don't know that I'd grade the Q&A period (McLachlan answering questions submitted by fans) very highly, however. On one hand, I now know where the name "Adia" comes from (credits on a TV show) and that being a parent hasn't hindered her ability to write from "a dark place," but the two sessions seemed superfluous and — in a show already pushing three hours — excessive.
But McLachlan was confident and at ease throughout, moving through a well-rehearsed set with few surprises (of note: the live version of "Fear" kicks serious ass). She looks great, sounds great, and going by the reactions of the Jones Hall crowd, could have played well into the next day.
Might have needed a few more intermissions, though.
Personal Bias: McLachlan ranks somewhere between Rush and Nickelback on my list of favorite Canadian artists.
The Crowd: Former Lilith Fair attendees and the men they settled for.
Overheard In the Crowd: [before the encore] "What songs are left?" "Angel." "What about the dog song?" "That is the dog song." "Oh. Well, I guess that's it."
Random Notebook Dump: "Her triceps are mesmerizing."
In Your Shoes
Building a Mystery
World on Fire
Loving You is Easy
Song for My Father
I Will Remember You
Brink of Destruction
Loves Beside Me
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
The Sound that Love Makes
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