Monday, June 30, 2014

Sarah McLachlan concert review: Los Angeles, Calif.

photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally ran at 

If Sarah McLachlan ever decides to take a break from music, she’d probably make a great radio host.

Whenever the veteran Canadian chanteuse provided background history for songs at the Greek Theatre on Saturday night, her soothing voice and worldview felt like an evening love advice program on some adult contemporary station.

That wasn’t a bad thing; the personal connection directly extended to fans. During a captivating 2 ½ hour set (plus intermission), McLachlan invited small groups of contest winners onstage to watch everything for short intervals, then went over to them to take selfies and answer questions.

Keeping with the comfy vibe, the stage design was patterned after a living room with couches, ottomans, rugs and hanging decorative bulbs.

Before show time and during the break, more queries were submitted by concertgoers. McLachlan pulled slips of paper from a hat and good-naturedly addressed everything from her underwear, the day’s activities with her young daughters and her expertise at playing drums (the band’s timekeeper coaxed a demonstration; she actually wasn’t too shabby) to embarrassing moments, dream duet partner (early influence Peter Gabriel) and sexual proclivities.

“Shine On,” McLachlan’s first new studio album in four years, came out last month and debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart. Lyrically, the solid collection is more open and direct than previous efforts, revolving around loss, hope and awakenings. The artist reconnected with longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand for it, but also did a few uncharacteristically electric guitar-centric tunes with producer Bob Rock (Aerosmith, The Cult). Former Eagles axe man Don Felder even co-wrote one about parenthood.

All but two songs from “Shine On” were played in Los Angeles. Yet they were woven seamlessly with enough popular selections off multi-platinum CDs “Surfacing” and “Afterglow” to satisfy longtime enthusiasts.

McLachlan stated she was very proud of the new material, asked for fans’ indulgence and then said, “we’re going to start off loud and proud” (no doubt a subtle nod to her large GLBT fan base). The four piece band opened with the driving, erotic “Flesh and Blood,” inspired by the singer’s relationship with retired Vancouver Canucks hockey player Geoff Courtnall.

Two big hits – “Building a Mystery” and “Adia” – were dispatched early and prompted crowd sing-alongs. The latter ballad segued into the calmer “Answer” and contained a sustained vocal note that received a wild reaction.   

photo by Kelly Swift
Moving easily from her trademark grand piano to acoustic and electric guitars on various songs, McLachlan explained the new album was about gratitude before a soaring “World on Fire.” Utilizing syncopated keyboards, “Loving You is Easy” was a welcome change of pace and ended up being a show highlight. The mildly aggressive “Monster,” about “people’s moral agendas” was dedicated to “all the assholes out there.”  

In the concert’s second half, a touching, highly personal and acoustic based “Song for My Father” found Curt Bisquera playing a single drum as the band was huddled close together.

The similar themed “I Will Remember You,” with McLachlan alone on piano, was quietly affecting. The musicians got a chance to expand during the organ driven “Love Beside Me” and the singer made dramatic gestures.
Back on electric guitar for the haunting title track to 1993’s “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy,” McLachlan pulled out all the vocal stops; its simmering, programmed groove was another standout. Still on a roll, that same album’s “Fear” featured stunning, near operatic intonations. Lead guitarist Joel Shearer’s squelching effects helped propel a strong “Sweet Surrender” and got a rousing response. The main set ended with a stunning delivery for “Possession,” the singer totally engrossed in the music.

Come encore time, a guest female cellist was brought on enrich the elegant “Beautiful Girl,” which offers a hopeful message for children (key lyric: “it will get better”) as well as the gorgeous solo piano ballad “Angel,” where three of the male musicians added background harmonies.

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