Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan is touring with an orchestra this summer. But with the dynamic and swelling arrangements behind her, nothing on stage compares to her hauntingly beautiful mezzo-soprano.
McLachlan’s voice filled the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater in Wednesday night’s performance, stirring a crowd of about 3,000 fans to respectfully sit quiet and listen.
She opened the concert with “Building a Mystery” as an acoustic piece, and as she finished the first verse, the symphony kicked in with a tangible thump to the chest and McLachlan beamed.
This tour pairing may be a test run by McLachlan for the future, but the symphonic arrangements are so natural to her music — essentially augmenting the ethereal swirls of the keyboard — it’s a wonder she waited until last year to try it. The first set heavily featured the backing of the nearly 40-piece symphony, and it never felt out of place. If there’s one criticism of McLachlan’s oeuvre, it’s that her songs lean heavily toward moody ruminations of dying or dead relationships. She poked fun at that, introducing the upbeat “Loving You Is Easy,” as “a happy love song” she felt compelled to write after all the “depressing love songs.”
But by the next piece, “Fallen,” she was back in her familiar terrain, singing of “making mistakes over and over again. When will I ever learn? I’m still waiting on that.”
Dressed in a silky white tunic cinched at the waist, with billowy silver slacks, she was tan, radiant, and smiles throughout, and alternated among playing piano and acoustic guitar, and swaying her arms gracefully to the music. She praised the warm, sunny weather that evening as a refreshing change from her rainy and colder Vancouver home, and mentioned how much she enjoyed touring the zoo, including the chance to feed the polar bears.
There was no air of pretension on the stage. She yielded the stage to the husband-and-wife Whitehorse duo, Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet, for two songs of their own near the opening of the second set, with McLachlan on piano and background vocals. The latter’s alt-country rocker “Broken One” afforded her the chance to stretch her naturally Nashville voice, with lyrics like “but you’ve got to have a heart to have a broken one.”
Then it was back to the broken love songs with “Illusions of Bliss,” this time as a band-only piece with Doucet on guitar, McClelland on bass, a drummer, and a keyboardist.
After a quick intro of the conductor, Sean O’Loughlin, who arranged most of the orchestral accompaniments, McLachlan was joined again by the symphony on “Adia,” the strings in perfect sync with her vocals and punctuating the emotions as she hit the high notes of the chorus, “We were born innocent.”
The best use of the orchestra was with “Love Come,” a song McLachlan was inspired to write after reading a film script. After seeing the butchered final product, she opted to keep the song for herself. The addition of the symphony to “Love Come,” strongly indicates how cinematic the song is — as many of her songs are.
She closed her nearly 2 1/2-hour-set, including a 20-minute intermission, with “Fear,” and “Possession,” and encored with “Bring on the Wonder,” “Angel,” and “Ice Cream.”
If the concert proved anything, it was the McLachlan-symphony experiment is a resounding success. It also proved her voice is the only instrument she ever needs.
SARAH McLACHLAN SETLIST:
1. Building a Mystery
2. U Want Me 2
4. I Will Remember You
5. Loving You is Easy
7. Hold On
8. World on Fire
9. Rivers of Love
10. Good Enough
11. Brake (Melissa McClelland)
12. Broken One (Luke Douce)
13. Illusions of Bliss
16. Sweet Surrender
17. Love Come
20. Bring on the Wonder
22. Ice Cream
Contact Kirk Baird at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6734.