Editor’s note: This article was originally published August 3, 2014
In terms of pure talent, it’s hard to come up with another singer-songwriter in contemporary music who compares with Sarah McLachlan. A gifted tunesmith with several universally known folk-pop songs to her credit, she’s also a versatile instrumentalist and a spectacular soprano singer.
All of those strengths were on display Saturday night at ACL Live. Bouncing from electric and acoustic guitar to piano, she played two dozen songs that included her signature ballads "Angel" and "I Will Remember You" along with a fresh batch of compelling numbers from her new album "Shine On." Her voice was a driving force throughout, and when she pushed it to its highest reaches on "Fear," it was a breathtaking wonder to behold.
It would be nice, then, if she didn’t feel drawn to distract from her own considerable artistry. Twice during her two-and-a-half-hour, two-set show, she took time out to welcome a small handful of "social media contest winners" to the side of the stage for a brief personal chat, and in both cases, it ground the momentum of her music to a halt.
The lucky half-dozen or so concertgoers who’d won wristbands granting the special treatment no doubt will never forget the experience, and it’s probably an effective way for McLachlan to engage fans in her social media activity. In the end, though, it got in the way of a good concert, seeming more like something that belonged in an after-show meet-and-greet instead of plopped down in the middle of her emotionally charged performance.
It’s not that finding ways to interact with fans is entirely a bad idea. McLachlan also asked concertgoers to write down questions for her and place them in a hat at the merchandise booth, then drew a few onstage and answered them. Those moments were less obtrusive and more entertaining; one person asked if she was a good dancer, prompting an amusing little routine between McLachlan and bassist Jon Evans to a rousing beat from drummer Curt Bisquera.
Those two musicians, along with guitarist Joel Shearer and keyboardist Vincent Jones, provided brilliant and tasteful support throughout, helping to pump up more forceful numbers such as "Sweet Surrender" and "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" while laying back on the more tender numbers that spotlighted McLachlan’s voice and piano. She performed "Angel," clearly the most anticipated song of the night, sans band at the start of a four-song encore; it was a beautiful moment, and a reminder of just how affecting McLachlan’s music can be when she leaves the sideshow behind.
1. "Flesh and Blood"
2. "Building a Mystery"
3. "In Your Shoes"
6. "Broken Heart"
8. "World on Fire"
9. "Loving You Is Easy"
12. "Song For My Father"
13. "I Will Remember You"
14. "Brink of Destruction"
15. "Hold On"
16. "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy"
19. "Sweet Surrender"
22. "Beautiful Girl"
23. "Ice Cream"
24. "The Sound That Love Makes"