The Voice of an Angel
The voice of an "Angel" returned to Houston and reminded us all why we fell in love with her decades ago.
Claiming this was the first real show of her latest U.S. tour following a warm-up in Seattle earlier this week, famed Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan kicked off her first large-scale western U.S. gig in years at the Hobby Center and delivered her intimate songwriting beautifully, elevating it with years of wisdom alongside self-deprecating humor and brevity. It was an immaculate performance and easily the best of early 2020.
McLachlan has always marched to the beat of her own drum. The singer left her native Halifax, Nova Scotia to settle in Vancouver to forward her music career in the late '80s. She took time away at the height of her success to start a family and has pursued a number of charitable causes over the years, including a trip to Cambodia for World Vision, starting a non-profit music school for at-risk youth in her adopted hometown, and her inescapable animal-rights efforts for the SPCA that became more than repetitive on late-night television set to her aforementioned most famous song.
No surprise, then, that when the male dominated music industry told her that they wouldn't play more than one or two women on the radio at any given time during the late-'90s, she built Lilith Fair, a female-focused, North American touring festival that broke down barriers and paved the road for countless female artists towards commercial dominance.
Simply take a look at the charts and at the recent Grammy-award-winners list to see the progress made in a post-Lilith world. It can be argued that there would be no Billie Eilish without Sarah McLachlan.
But music fans are a fickle bunch and her time away left questions as to whether McLachlan still had the star power to draw a crowd. Based on her performance and the audience's rapturous response to the 20-song, two-hour set, she's definitely still got the goods.
The 52-year-old singer came out unpretentiously dressed in black, giving a shy wave to the crowd. The stage was sparsely set with only a piano and a set-up for multi-instrumentalist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, who would also provide backup vocals, cello, guitar, and percussion accompaniment throughout the night. But for the first three songs, it was only McLachlan, starting off with "In Your Shoes" from her 2014 album, Shine On.
That led into the song that made her an international star, "Possession," from 1993's still-great Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, her vocal prowess on full display, mesmerizing and inducing goosebumps in the audience with its immense range. Funnily enough, following the superb Generation X graduation anthem, "I Will Remember You," McLachlan apologized, saying that her vocals weren't up to snuff due to a recent bout of laryngitis that almost forced her to cancel the first leg of her tour. No one in attendance would have known the difference.
It was obvious that most of those at the Hobby Center were old school fans and even in the prim-and-proper theater setting, it got a little rowdy at times, with fans shouting out their admiration and song requests, including "Vox" from her 1988 debut, Touch.
McLachlan, the consummate pro, acknowledged the die-hards and even tried to play the song, sheepishly admitting that she had completely forgot the words to the song and how to play it past the first chords, asking the crowd how the rest of the song went before moving on.
Seeing as most of those who paid to see her had aged since they last saw her, it made sense that McLachlan alluded to her friendships, her marriage, divorce, failed loves, and children before introducing songs. She referred to her past relationships and how they informed her songs, many of them written about exes, proving that women were writing songs about boyfriends well before Taylor Swift. It only served to ground her winning and very Canadian demeanor.
Highlights included a gorgeous "Adia" from her 1997 watermark, Surfacing, followed by "Good Enough" from 1993's breakthrough Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street," and later on, Surfacing track "Sweet Surrender," inspired by the Nicholas Cage film, Leaving Las Vegas. The late section dragged a bit, with her claiming that the "more depressing songs are, the happier they make me" but that was juxtaposed to the rousing pre-encore singalong "Ice Cream" from Fumbling... which drew tremendous applause.
And of course, the three song encore was anchored by the soul-shaking "Angel," carrying just as much weight as it did when it first was released 23 years ago. The ukelele-led "The Sound That Love Makes" from 2014's Shine On brought on a declaration that the Lilith Fair star was currently in love herself, proving that even songs written from the depths of dark feelings could be countered by those of happiness.
It would have been nice to see McLachlan with a full band, but the two-woman show drew the crowd into her intimate, heartfelt songs. The evening's performance proved that even though artists may disappear from public life and deal with growth and heartache in their private ones, their talent always stays with them, ready to shine under the spotlight when the creative world calls them back.
“In Your Shoes”
“I Will Remember You”
“Building a Mystery”
“Song for My Father”
"Mercy Street" (Peter Gabriel cover)
"World On Fire"
"Rivers of Love"
"The Sound That Love Makes"